Proposed Ariz. park would use 100 million gallons of water a year

Tuesday, November 20, 2007
This artist mock-up showed kayakers navigating the whitecaps of a wide, rumbling river at the Waveyard ocean theme park in Mesa, Ariz., when the project is complete in 2011. The Waveyard will drain as much as 100 million gallons of groundwater a year in exchange for a half-billion dollars worth of water activities in suburban Mesa. (Waveyard Development, LLC)

MESA, Ariz. -- By tapping rivers and sucking water from deep underground, developers have covered Arizona with carpets of Bermuda grass and dotted the parched landscape with swimming pools, golf courses and lakeshore homes.

Now another ambitious project is in the works: A massive new water park that would offer surf-sized waves, snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking -- all in a bone-dry region that gets just 8 inches of rain a year.

"It's about delivering a sport that's not typically available in an urban environment," said Richard Mladick, a Mesa real-estate developer who persuaded business leaders in suburban Mesa to support the proposal called the Waveyard.

If constructed, the park would use as much as 100 million gallons of groundwater a year.

Mladick, 39, said he wanted to create the kind of lush environment he remembers from growing up in Virginia Beach, Va., and surfing in Morocco, Indonesia, Hawaii and Brazil.

The 125-acre park will feature a scuba lagoon, an artificial beach, a whitewater river, a snorkeling pond with reefs and a rock-climbing center.

No citizens groups overtly opposed the project, but its water usage may raise questions in the future as the growing Phoenix area struggles to replenish its vast aquifer. Arizona has been in a drought for a decade, and rivers that feed Phoenix and surrounding communities experienced near-record low measurements this year.

"Water is a scarce and valued commodity," said Jim Holway, associate director of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

Holway said the Phoenix area currently enjoys huge supplies of underground water. But it's tough to determine exactly how long communities can sustain their rate of water consumption, given that global warming may make the desert even drier.

The Waveyard will need as much as 50 million gallons of water at first to fill its artificial oceans and rivers.

Replenishing water lost to evaporation and spillage will require another 60 to 100 million gallons per year, enough to support about 1,200 people in the Phoenix area.

Project organizers say they won't tap Mesa's drinking water supplies to fill the park. Instead, they plan to draw from a well that has elevated levels of arsenic, which makes its water unsuitable for drinking. The Waveyard will build a treatment plant to make the water safe for swimmers.

Rita Maguire, a former director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources who studied water availability for Waveyard developers, said the project will not use any more water than one of Arizona's many golf courses.

"Initially, the reaction is, 'Oh my. Is this an appropriate use of water in a desert?'

"But recreation is a very important part of a community. And if you can make the use of that water in a highly efficient way, it's a smart choice," she said.

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