A fundamental characteristic of life in Central Arizona is the water scarcity endemic to the Sonoran desert. As Mark Reisner demonstrated in "Cadillac Desert," his canonical history on the development of the American West, settlement of America’s arid Western states depended on a fundamental hubris: that man could survive and thrive in any climate through engineering and technological prowess.
Rather than leaving the desert to find water, one could bring the water to the desert. By creating a Department of Reclamation, the United States’ government sought to “reclaim” desert land for agricultural production and human habitation – in the manner Eastern Americans were accustomed to.
With this background in mind, consider Veterans Oasis Park in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona. Being located in the desert – and transitioning from agricultural development to urban growth – Chandler is subject to the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980 (the Code). Under the auspices of the code, the metro Phoenix area is required to achieve “safe-yield” – a long term balance between groundwater withdrawals and the amount of natural and artificial “recharge.”
Recharge is the process by which effluent produced by wastewater treatment plants is reclaimed for future use – often requiring storage and recovery. As part of the “storage and recovery” process, the Chandler Heights Recharge Facility and Veterans Oasis Park represent an exemplary mixed-use approach.
Essentially, Chandler has created an urban oasis. Artificially-created wetlands that are working, through natural processes, to recycle reclaimed water back into the subsurface aquifer concomitantly provide habitat for wildlife and public recreational space. Out of 113 acres, 78 are dedicated to water recharge basins – which in turn establish a wetlands ecosystem through a network of ponds connected by small, continuously flowing streams.
The 31 acre recreational portion of the recharge facility is adjacent to these wetlands – with 4.5 miles of walking trails surrounding the storage-basin wetlands. The park has as its centerpiece a fishing lake, which consists of water filtered through the wetlands into the aquifer and subsequently recovered from an onsite well.
Veterans Oasis Park is an exceptional public recreational space that also provides an ecologically critical function: facilitating water re-use in the midst of arid desert. Once humanity endeavored to make the desert habitable, the necessity of such conservation measures to sustain life there was foreordained. Chandler has struck upon a fine approach to making inhospitable terrain feel like home.