To some, it’s a slice of heaven in the middle of the urban core. To others, it’s just a wash — a natural flood channel carved in the desert by centuries of storm water run off.
A recent City of Henderson project amounting to the deforestation of a grove of mesquite trees in a prized Green Valley stretch of the Pittman Wash has residents, many whose homes line the banks, fighting city hall.
“There’s some really overgrown areas,” Henderson’s public works chief Ed McGuire told wary Green Valley residents Wednesday evening at a meeting at the Silver Springs Recreation Center, which overlooks the wash. “Fires are a real concern. That’s what started the maintenance this winter was overgrowth that posed a fire hazard.”
Unlike the concrete-lined flood channels to its east, the section of Pittman Wash between Green Valley Parkway and Valle Verde is a desert oasis, with trails carefully constructed by Eagle Scouts, who patiently reline the paths with pebbles following the rare storms that turn the wash into a raging rapid. Signs along the trails educate visitors about native species. Geese fly overhead as rabbits and roadrunners scurry from approaching visitors.
“We know what you guys have done with the channels. They don’t look so nice,” said resident Randall Roske, referring to the nearby cement washes. “We have a little portion of the past in the wash. It’s a great enhancement.”
But to Henderson’s public works officials, the trails and vegetation are just obstacles to performing maintenance on a sewer main that runs the length of the wash and serves 50,000 Henderson residents, according to the city.
“We’ve gotten ourselves behind the eight ball,” said a Henderson utilities official, who recited a history of sewer overflows and main breaks along the wash. “It’s difficult to get to the utilities.”
The sewer line was built in the 1980s to facilitate the development of Green Valley.
“Since the 1990s the Pittman Wash, sanitary sewer system, and corresponding access road has been adversely impacted by increased recurring flood events due to the urbanized watershed, the introduction of invasive plant species that has resulted in increased density and height of vegetation, increased water level elevations due to the overgrowth in vegetation, and the recent surfacing of groundwater as a result of over-irrigation,” says the city’s website.
The stretch of the wash from Pecos Road to Arroyo Grande is a critical component of the regional flood plan and designed to carry more than 3 million gallons of water a minute, based on a 100-year flood model, according to the city.
The city’s website says historic photos reveal current vegetation exceeds the wash’s natural growth, posing both a flood and fire hazard.
“This is due to over-irrigation resulting in a constant flow of water in the wash, the spread of non-native landscape and invasive species with no natural biological controls, and the unnatural collection and seeding of plants,” says the website.
“We’re very concerned that you’re even down there walking around,” said Henderson Fire Chief Shawn White. “As the Fire Chief, I get very concerned about fires with your houses right up next to them. It’s a flood channel. That’s what it was designed for. I know it’s become other things.”
“I’ve had fatal fires because the homeless built camps and they can’t get out in time. If it gets in your house, I guarantee I’m going to have to answer to it — why I knew about it and didn’t do anything,” White said.
City officials admitted they’ve failed to notify neighbors of pending projects. Neighbors complain the city is concerned only with engineering and has little regard for vegetation and wildlife.
“This is a priceless natural resource,” said one resident at the meeting. “The city needs to have an increased emphasis and appreciation for the natural value.”
Evelyn Gajowski, the president of Project GREEN, which helps manage the wash, was pleased the city addressed the residents’ concerns but disappointed Project GREEN wasn’t given the opportunity to present its proposals.
“We want a seat at the table to have input into what’s going to happen, not be made aware after the fact,” she said.