Conserving Water with Water Wise

Protect and Enhance the Nation's Natural Resource Base and Environment
Research Year: 

The Sierra Vista Subwatershed, located in the southeast corner of Arizona, includes seven municipalities and few unincorporated areas with a combined population of approximately 70,000 residents. Subwatershed residents rely on an aquifer for all their water needs. The subwatershed is drained by the San Pedro River, recognized as the first national riparian area by US Congress in 1988 because of its rich diversity of plant and animal species. This riparian area is dependent on the height of the aquifer. Unfortunately, like many areas in the Southwest, the aquifer is being overdrawn by the increasing human population of the subwatershed. This overdraft threatens the health of the riparian area.

Description of Action: 

Responding to the need for conservation in the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed, Cochise County Cooperative Extension began an effort in 1994 in coordination with the City of Sierra Vista, local water companies and utilities that eventually resulted in the development of Water Wise. Supported by private and public sponsors, this community education program now reaches out to all Cochise County residents helping them reduce water use and implement good natural resources management practices on their land and/or in their businesses. One of the goals of the program is to make water conservation a community value. Water Wise provides free information through bulletins, information racks, a hot-line telephone service, speakers, community presentations, workshops, educational events and on-site water consultations.

Water Wise Youth, Water Wise and Energy Smart program, and the Plant Sciences Center are other programs administered by Water Wise. They emphasize water conservation for students, for residents of the nearby military base Fort Huachuca, and promote low water use native vegetation in landscapes, respectively. Auditors perform residential, industrial, commercial and institutional property audits. With this data, the Water Wise program can chart water use trends, identify abnormal spikes in use and assist the auditee with conservation methods.

Of the four entities working with water conservation within the Sierra Vista Sub-watershed, Water Wise is the only organization whose primary focus is educational. The three other entities: the Upper San Pedro Partnership, Cochise County Water Conservation Office, the city of Sierra Vista’s Water Tight program, focus on policy and rebate programs. Water Wise assists with these efforts.


During 2004, Water Wise facilitators reached 1,713 residents, 4,047 students, and 8,289 military and civilian personnel directly through workshops, classes, presentations, displays, tours and other activities. Groups ranged in age from schoolchildren to adults. Indirect reach included 70,000 people.

Residential audits of water use included 350 direct contacts and 150 indirect contacts. Twenty-four industrial, commercial and institutional audits were conducted, with a savings of more than 16 acre-feet of water during the year. Documentation within the Industrial, Commercial and Institutional Audit sector can be measured with a caveat: the audit report can only quantify potential savings. Due to labor shortages and replacement costs, many water saving recommendations from the audit are not immediately achievable. Total Recommended Savings from the ICI program: 16 acre feet (an acre foot is 325, 851 gallons). Data collected by the city of Sierra Vista’s Public Works Department documents overall water savings within the city for 2004 to be 93 million gallons (285 acre feet) of water compared with water use in 2003, a savings of approximately 4 percent. Ft. Huachuca reports a water use reduction of 7.5 percent from FY 01.

In July 2004, Water Wise conducted the first Rainwater Harvesting (RWH) Tour in the SV Sub-watershed. More than 100 people attended. Sales for rain water collection tanks surged after the tour. The month before the tour, two water companies imposed water restrictions due to the drought. It can be safely assumed that both of these events contributed to an increase in residential RWH practices.

Additionally in 2004, the Water Wise Youth Program held its first Water Festival with 400 fourth grade students participating in three educational activities. The program also conducted a “Thirsty Lizard” quantitative water conservation program with eight 5th and 6th grade classes. Average weekly savings of 73 gallons of water per student occurred after the week-long special program.

Water Wise has been recognized by a consortium of 21 federal, state, county, city and stakeholder organizations - called the Upper San Pedro Partnership- as the educational outreach program for community water conservation.


“After our water audit, our water use went from $150/month to $50/month. The bushes look good, and we found a lot of holes in the water line.” –Sierra Vista resident “Initial excitement for (The Thirsty Lizard school program) ran high at this new and innovative way to make students aware of their water usage. They loved the timers and (measuring) bags.” –elementary school teacher

“Wow! I wish our whole family would participate in this project. Maybe our teenage daughter will see how much water is wasted by just one person.” –parent of participating “Thirsty Lizard” student

Funding Agencies: 

Cochise County, City of Sierra Vista, Fort Huachuca, Upper San Pedro Partnership, Bella Vista Water Company, Arizona Water Company, Pueblo del Sol Water Company, Sulphur Springs Valley Electric Cooperative, Southeast Arizona Association of Realtors

Conact Name: 
Cado Daily
Contact E-mail: 
Contact Address: 

The University of Arizona

1140 N. Colombo

Sierra Vista, AZ 85635-2390

(520) 458-8278, ext. 2139 office (520) 626-2492 fax