Sustainability lessons from Cottonwood: A small city doing big things

Wed, 2015-03-25 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

It's an impressive-sounding award that the city of Cottonwood, Arizona – population approximately 12,000 – received recently: the VerdeXchange-Arizona Commerce Authority 2015 Sustainable Economic Growth City of the Decade Award.

More impressive is what the small city in northern Arizona did to win it, competing against 16 other cities, large urban centers among them. Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens provided some insights on what they've done, and what they still plan to do.

Targeting water loss and conservation
The city has done dozens of upgrades to its water system, bringing water loss from leaky pipes from about 45% down to 11%, the mayor said. "We have a huge conservation program which has been very successful," she added, "allowing us to pump more than 20% less out of the aquifer than was pumped when the water companies were privately owned."

The city also makes reclaimed water available 24/7 for Verde Valley projects and development and does not allow the use of potable water in construction, the mayor said. When Cottonwood builds or reconstructs a street, they add purple pipe for future use of reclaimed water.

Transit success and open for business
"We are known throughout the state as a successful transit city,” Mayor Joens said, "even though our population is very small at about 11,800 to 12,000. About 35,000 people outside the city count on us for services, shopping, hospital, doctors, library, ball fields, recreation, etc."

The city's Cottonwood Area Transit collaborates with Sedona on the Verde Lynks system and also provides collaborative services outside the city to Clarkdale and Yavapai County’s Verde Village.

The mayor said the city has created an open business climate, including a business incubator in partnership with the Northern Area Council of Governments and Yavapai College.

Renewable energy initiatives
Cottonwood added a $300,000 solar system to a new recreation center and with a grant from Arizona Commerce Authority, built a $90,000 solar project at its airport.

Next up is a new reclamation plant project that the mayor says will be 100% solar and remove pharmaceuticals from a reclaimed stream.

"It will water our parks, an old stand of Cottonwood trees that are suffering due to a change in the course of the river, and we are also planning to inject extra water to benefit the Verde River," she said. "It will also have a learning center to help children learn about the process."

Learn more about Cottonwood in this brief video.