Soggy Tucson: UA researchers find Old Pueblo gets more monsoon action than anywhere else

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What happens in Tucson appears to stay in Tucson — at least when the things “happening” in the Old Pueblo are the effects of strong summer thunderstorms.

Tucson and southern Arizona get more Wagnerian excitement –– and suffer more economic harm — from severe “monsoon” storms than any other Southwestern metropolis, according to a pair of researchers from the University of Arizona.

At over 6.08 inches of rain falling during the hot, muggy monsoon season, Tucson leads the Southwestern pack. It gets nearly an inch more than the next soggiest community, El Paso, and easily twice as much as that place north of the Gila River, metro Phoenix.

Like Phoenix, Tucson is an extraordinarily stable environment. It is not in an earthquake zone. Hurricanes rarely make it to southern Arizona intact. And damaging winter weather is a non-starter. There’s a good reason why the local chambers of commerce tout the climate.

Indeed, the report’s authors go out of their way to note that “Tucson’s weather also provides opportunities for economic activity, including a vibrant winter tourism economy and growing solar industry across Southern Arizona.”

And, really, in an environment that in recent years has endured chronic drought, the main effect of summer monsoons is a big attraction. We like water falling in great gobs from the sky.

But something has to top every community’s list of “most damaging” weather effects, even if those effects themselves are comparatively modest.

In Tucson, it’s those often-sensational monsoons, which according to UA researchers Laura A. Bakkensen and Riana D. Johnson account for 84 percent of all “extreme” weather events there and 96 percent of all property losses.

Notably, the Bakkensen/Johnson white paper did not include the net impact of long-term drought.

On the other hand, it did illustrate the most effective ways to mitigate the impacts of those unpredictable monsoons, most of which Southwesterners already “get.”

Like not driving on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix when it gets dark and windy. Like not pushing the limits of “stupid driver” laws by driving into running washes after summer storms. And, not least, buying a little home and car insurance.

Golf in Arizona: UofA researchers find that industry is reducing golf-course reliance on fresh water

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A University of Arizona study of the golf industry in Arizona has found that golf – with an economic impact of $3.9 billion in 2014 — has re-established its footing as an important driver of the state’s economy following the tumult of the 2009-10 economic downturn.

Just as important, however, are the data the U of A researchers collected regarding the industry’s use of water for course irrigation, which is in a rapid state of transition from a supply that once was largely fresh water to one that increasingly includes effluent.

 The five researchers from the U of A’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics concluded their work in December, based on 2014 data.

The study is an update of a 2006 study of the economic impact of golf to the state’s economy. It is largely the product of primary data collected from Arizona golf facilities statewide through a survey.

The University of Arizona team concluded that the golf-course industry is in a more rapid transition to the use of effluent to irrigate greens and fairways than previous research had indicated.

They found that fully 34 percent of water used to irrigate Arizona golf courses statewide is treated effluent.

The most comprehensive water-use data previously had been collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2010, which at that time found that effluent accounted for just 28 percent of golf’s total statewide water use. That new data indicates a six percent increase industry-wide in effluent use in just six years.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources also contributed water-use data to the researchers. The department’s data are limited to golf-course irrigation practices in the state’s active-management areas.

Active-management areas, or AMAs, are the areas of the state where water use is regulated by the tenets of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

The department’s data showed that effluent use in 2014 had increased by 27 percent since 2004, and that by 2014 effluent represented 26.3 percent of the water mix of golf courses in AMAs. The U of A researchers contend the actual use of effluent statewide is nearly nine percent higher than that AMA-only figure would indicate.

The study found that, in addition to the increasing use of effluent for irrigation, water-related “best management practices” over the last ten years appear to resulted in the following:

  • An average annual savings per-facility of 19.5 acre-feet of water, in large part due to the extensive use of irrigation audits
  • An average of 10.4 acres of turf grass removed
  • An average of 75.8 acres per facility over-seeded for winter play, down from 89.3 acres in 2009
  • Thirty-nine percent of responding golf facilities report that they have engagement in a partnership with a conservation organization

The data compiled by the U of A researchers also bolstered the conclusion that the Arizona golfing industry is bucking a national trend in terms of the sport’s popularity.

Nationally, the golf industry has struggled to rise out of the effects of the Great Recession. As the study notes, “the national supply of golf courses has been decreasing in what is considered a market correction after significant increases in golf course construction during the 1990s.”

Arizona has seen course closures too, but those have been matched by new construction. Also, numerous courses have undergone substantial renovation, according to the study.

One of the more striking economy-related conclusions of the study is that of the 11.6 million rounds of golf played around the state in 2014, nearly a third of those rounds were played by golfers from out of state.

“Over 32 percent of those rounds were played by out-of-state and foreign visitors accounting for $1.1 billion in total sales,”, said Carmella Ruggiero, executive director of the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Supervisors Association. “The golf industry continues to be one of the primary drivers of tourism to Arizona.”