FLORENCE — In Arizona, whiskey’s for drinking and water’s for fighting: including target practice.
The water system that feeds the town of Superior, managed by Arizona Water Company, involves a complex engineering project whose challenges include pumping treated water at high pressure 26 miles east and over 1,000 feet in elevation.
But perhaps the biggest challenge for the water system is that the pipes have become a popular source for target practice.
Because it is above ground, the water main that sends water from the Desert Well site, just north of Florence, to Superior is exposed and site managers say they can tell when it has been penetrated by local shooters when the water pressure — normally kept at 800 PSI — suddenly drops dramatically.
The efforts to maintain the pipes cost valuable time and money, not to mention water, in the middle of an area currently experiencing a decades-long drought.
Due to its remote location off State Route 79, the shooters are almost never identified.
“It’s a crime to tamper with the federal water system,” said AWC President Fred Schneider, “but by the time you get out there, usually the perpetrators are gone.”
AWC Division Manager Bill Staples said that they know the shooters are intentionally aiming to create a geyser because they often find dents all around the area around the bullet hole, indicating multiple attempts at breaking through the steel transition main.
“It’s not an easy task to repair that damage,” said AWC production foreman Jim Padilla. “We have to drain miles of water, get the pressure down to repair the pipeline, then get the pressure back up. It’s time consuming and dangerous, and the company loses.”
The incidents tend to happen once every few years, an occurrence frequent enough to cause trouble for the company. However, because Superior’s water supply is stored in tanks near the town, the maintenance work doesn’t affect the town.
AWC officials said that while they don’t have any plans to use drones or other technology that would keep trespassers away, the company is working on upgrades to the pressure valves to put them in at shorter intervals, which would mean faster repairs.
AWC is the largest water provider in Pinal County, operating nine water systems to over 130,000 residents including those in Arizona City, Coolidge and Casa Grande.