Deserts are usually for the cacti and the scorpions because of limited water resources. Even its human inhabitants must worry daily about water access and rights. Since water is not only critical to life but to economic and cultural development as well, access to water is a really big deal.
Despite its water challenges, the desert can harbor the potential for economic growth in some unlikely places. In fact, a diamond in all this rough sits just off the Interstate 40 Alamo Road exit in the township of Yucca, Arizona. It’s called the Mojave Water Company, underneath which lives a vast and generous watershed.
Economic development opportunities in abundance
Yucca is a small community of approximately 280 people, though it does increase by 50 percent on average during the winter. Due to its size, it’s extremely easy to miss. Passersby will find a small post office, J’s Café, a restaurant and one bar known as the historic Honolulu Club.
Though little, Yucca could benefit from a more diversified set of economic opportunities. However any growth requires water. Residents currently have access to water, but it’s not much. According to Mike Marcil, an innovative real estate developer focused on rural communities, “There’s already water in Yucca, but its service is limited to the west side of the Interstate 40. Any population growth or increased water consumption puts a serious strain on its existing capacities. Our goal was to make water available to the east side of the highway, via the Mojave Water Company, which would help fuel economic growth for the local community.”
The Mojave Water Company provides a commercial and industrial source of clean, fast water, which renders the land prime for development. All major utility services such as electric, gas and fiber already exist at the site.
As for economic development in Yucca – the potential is there. The parcel of land on which the Mojave Water Company resides is essentially a blank slate ripe for the right development. This could include an extended stay hotel, a truck stop and wash, transportation and distribution facilities as well as residential developments. The Mojave Water Company could even be developed itself to offer an at home delivery service or even feature a bottling plant. The makings of it are all in place.
The greater region is even drawing the attention of larger retailers like Wal-Mart. The mega store is considering building a general merchandise distribution center 7 miles west of Kingman, next to I-40, to serve Mohave County. Though no timetable has been set for its construction, Wal-Mart has paid for water connection services.
Water resources are as good as gold
Water resources in Arizona are like gold, especially when attached to a fully functioning water tank. In 2013, an investment group, led by Marcil, acquired the 92-acre site (84 commercial acres and 8 residential), including water facilities.
The major water sources in Arizona come from surface water, the Colorado River, groundwater and reclaimed water. Forty-three percent of Arizona’s water use comes from groundwater. Groundwater is ideal because it’s renewable. Typically, it replenishes via rain, snow, sleet and hail that penetrates through the earth to collect in underlying natural reservoirs or aquifers. This water can be millions of years old.
“The Mojave Water Company doesn’t pull its water from the Colorado River. It comes from the Sacramento Valley Basin watershed. The water comes from streams that traverse the basin and replenishes along its mountain fronts,” says Marcil. This water isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the Mojave Water Company is awaiting an Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) certification, which will only increase its value.
The Sacramento Valley Basin Watershed serves Mohave County and covers some 1,587 square miles. The basin is divided into three areas: the Sacramento Valley Aquifer, the Dutch Flats and the Franconia Narrows. The watershed is flanked by a number of different mountains separating it from the Colorado River. To the west of the watershed lies the Black Mountains. The Mohave Mountains are to the southwest. Along the east are the Hualapai Mountains and to the northeast are the Cerbat Mountains.
Over the last year and a half, Marcil’s group has been renovating the pre-existing water facilities. The water infrastructure consists of a one million gallon water tank, a pumping station and an underground 14-inch water line that extends under I-40 that has the capacity for future use. They also installed a custom designed water automation system, which uses solar power and has a high-end backup power system. The upgraded water facilities now provide high quality and reliable water to the region.
The watershed contains a vast quantity of water, which means that as far as pumping restrictions go, there are none. As long as the water is put to beneficial use, no water rights are required either.
Geography and well connected road ways
Not only do the water and its facilities create value for future development, it’s right next to I-40, a major industrial corridor. The Mojave Water Company’s land site is situated right off the Alamo Road exit, mile maker 25, of the east-west traveling Interstate 40. The Alamo off-ramp also leads to the Stagecoach Trails community at the Santa Fe Ranch, which is known as one of the country’s largest land developments encompassing around 130,000 acres
The property shares one boundary with the Chrysler proving grounds. The other borders bump up against the site of a unique, popular structure, commonly known as the UFO or Golf Ball House. On the actual site rests the 32-foot water tower with letters measuring 8 feet tall that read, “Water for Sale.” Needless to say, it’s hard to miss from the freeway.
The land around I-40 is a prime spot for development since the highway directly connects California to New Mexico as well as major metropolitan areas in Arizona. At Kingman, Arizona I-40 intersects with US 93, connecting Phoenix to Las Vegas. Interstate 17 also intersects with I-40 linking Phoenix and Flagstaff. Lake Havasu City, another popular destination, with a population of 53,103, is accessible via I-95, another juncture off the I-40.
This all means that Mohave County is well connected and sees a lot of traffic. “I could sit there all day long, and I see more truckers than I see cars. Interstate 40 is a major trucking route out of California,” says Darrel Hanway, Senior Project Manager at the Mojave Water Company. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the daily traffic count in 2015 for the Yucca Alamo exit was 10,389 vehicles, which represents an annual growth of 3 percent. Roughly 39.5 percent of this traffic is truck traffic. This isn’t that surprising as Yucca is only 25 miles from the California border and 25 miles to Kingman.
Another interstate is in the works in the region. Though still in the planning stages in Arizona, Interstate 11 is a coming attraction that will include a concurrency with I-40 in and close by Kingman. Its goal is to create a Mexico to Canada corridor, linking two of the United States’ top trading partners. Locally, the interstate will connect Las Vegas and Phoenix via a direct route. According to the AZ Central, “It (I-11) will place Arizona and Nevada at the crossroads of emerging transcontinental commerce, trade and tourism routes between Mexico and Canada, and across the United States.” This could lead to even more traffic through Mojave County, which makes water access even more pertinent.
Digging into the past
Since most people have never heard of Yucca, it might seem an unlikely place for rising developments. Especially since its main claim to fame was as a stop along the historic Route 66. Though it’s also known for the large golf ball-shaped, alien-themed structure built to serve as a restaurant for a community that was never developed. Besides that, it’ still rife with sand and…gravel.
In truth, Yucca’s history and economy developed as a direct result of their access to reliable water. It began as a water and service stop on the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad and even served as a site for a World War II military base to train pilots. In 1954, Ford Motor Company bought the former base and turned it into a proving grounds for automobile development and testing. The proving grounds changed hands when Chrysler bought it in 2007. Yucca was even part of Route 66 from 1952 until the early 1970’s when Interstate 40 replaced the part going through Yucca to the detriment of many small businesses.
Despite these setbacks, the region had water, which history proved was valuable. Originally, the one million gallon water tank and one mile, 14-inch water pipeline were built by a paper mill on the opposite side of I- 40 from their warehouse. The high capacity water tank served paper processing purposes as well as allowed for extra resources to be on hand in the advent of a fire.
A large company acquired and then closed down the paper mill. Subsequently, the property was sold off in pieces. The warehouse and land on the west side of the highway was sold to different buyers than the water facilities and land to the east. The water line extending under the freeway to the warehouse was disconnected and the water tank fell into disuse. It was eventually sealed and laid dormant for decades. This tank and water line would later became part of the Mojave Water Company.
The Mojave Water Company provides faster, more reliable water, which benefits local communities. Not only can current residents take advantage of the service, but future residents will be able to as well since it allows for more residential development. Even the local firefighters can benefit from the new water service in the event of a life or death emergency.
It takes only four minutes for the firefighters to fill up a 2000 gallon water truck with the Mojave Water Company’s 4 inch top fill hose compared to the 20 minutes it takes at their own station. This is extremely useful as the Yucca Fire Department is the only firefighting and EMT services that serve the region between Kingman and Lake Havasu. Their territory also includes nearby mountain residents. There are no fire hydrants in the mountains, so they must bring their water with them and return to fill up. Rapid filling speeds equals lives saved in the event of an emergency.
Bringing easily accessible and trustworthy water to the area not only helps the community in the short run, it lays the foundation for more economic development and jobs in the long run. Though this region appears mostly desert, its stands to benefit substantially from its abundant water source. In a state rife with water rights and access issue, Yucca and Mohave County might be the perfect place to thrive.