Arizona’s pool total could top 5 surf basins

The City of Cottonwood, in the middle of Arizona, may become home to the states’ fifth proposed wave pool, one-upping California’s Coachella Valley who has four on the drawing board. If successful, Cottonwood would join Surftown AZ, The Strand, the nearly completed Revel Surf Park and Big Surf.

Cottonwood is the epicenter of the Verde Valley wine region and has branded itself as the ‘Heart of Arizona Wine Country’. Sipping on fine wine while watching perfect man-made waves, why not?

The Cottonwood City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission heard a presentation for the proposed project at a joint special session Sept. 14, during which they were asked to provide feedback and direction.

“We’re very interested in Sedona and Cottonwood,” developer Bruce Barrett said. “The area is stunning, the Verde Valley tourism is exceptional, very charming, the historic downtown streets in Jerome and Cottonwood and such. What we feel is we have an ability to put something in here that would be profitable for us, clearly, but also incredibly beneficial for the greater Verde Valley area.”

vintage arizona post card doesn't show a wave pool

Mr Barrett, is looking at around a 741 acre parcel of Arizona State Trust land off of State Route 260 near Camino Real, which lies within Cottonwood city limits.

The site would hold around 3,700 units, a third of which would be a wave pool and resort, a third would be primary residential homes, (houses, townhomes and condos), and the other third would be secondary residential homes that could be used as short-term rental properties or vacation homes. Barrett also made it known that, if approved, he intends to provide affordable housing for those within the $60,000 to $170,000 income range as well as employee housing.

The proposal involves working with the Arizona State Land Department to divide the land up into parcels and auction them off over time. Instead of seeing the land developed as simple neighborhoods, Barrett would like to use the area to build a resort-style village consisting of manmade water recreation areas and residences.

All of the housing would be backed by either a trail or the extensive canal-style waterways Barrett intends to weave through the resort. Other potential amenities include public parks and trails, public access water recreation and a surf park, a bike pump track, a family entertainment center consisting of a movie theater, restaurants, retail shopping and virtual reality experiences and office space. And, if possible, he would like to include an amphitheater, Top Golf or Big Shots Golf, a culinary institute and desert botanical gardens.

Monument Valley Arizona is 4 hours north of Cottonwood by car. Photo by Ganapathy Kumar

Water is a core element in the resort project, and Barrett made it known that should he not be allowed to include the surf park and waterways, he will not be interested in building at all.

“The issue for us is we would love to be in this area, we’d love to be on this property, but unless we’re able to put in these water features, we just wouldn’t do it,” he said.

Barrett said the water features are not designed to consume water, and the only loss of water would come from evaporation and residential and commercial use. He also expressed interest in purchasing water rights from the Friends of Verde River for evaporation and would like to either collect rainwater or use reclaimed water, which he thinks would be enough for the water amenities.

Though Nancy L.C. Steele, Executive Director of Friends of Verde River, stated “Friends of the Verde River does not own water rights and thus has none to sell.”

water in arizona is needed for a wave pool
Arizona’s water comes from Rocky Mountain runoff, much of which is captured in dams and reservoirs. Photo by Joshua Sukoff

Christopher Fox Graham, Managing Editor of Sedona’s (the closest large town to Cottonwood) Red Rock News, writes in an opinion piece against the development, “Cottonwood Utilities Director Tom Whitmer, a water expert, called the rainwater capture plan ‘rather ambitious’ . . . When asked, he said rainwater might be able to catch one-fifth of what was proposed. Whitmer pointed out that the last two non-monsoons would have meant that the rainwater capture would have been near zero.” And regarding the three-phased development plan Graham goes on to say, “Financially, Barrett’s plan for construction is to “take the product” to potential buyers, sell it, then build the next phase. These purchases are refundable if people change their minds. They will. The problem with pay-as-you-go massive developments is that actual, real-world people don’t want to live in half-complete developments, nor wait 20 years for the perks they were promised.”

Mr Barrett says the water use will be minimized and human recreation needs to be considered in the debate.

“Overall, we’re talking about making this development as water-wise as it can conceivably be,” he said. “We’re not unaware of the issues with water and what’s going on, but people like water play . . . It seems like there’s probably a lifestyle and an economic justification for providing water play.”

1969 Arizona Big Surf wave pool
Arizona’s the birthplace of surfing wave pools. Big Surf opened in 1969 and soon built a core following of locals eager to surf.

Several council members were not convinced and expressed concern about the project’s water usage as well as doubt that their generally conservation-minded constituents would be on board.

“We’ve got water. It’s called the Verde River,” Councilwoman Debbie Wilden said. “I think visually and mentally the high use of water would be, including the evaporation, an eyesore for this community in more ways than one. I can’t imagine the public would want this.”

Cottonwood has a semi-arid steppe climate and has an approximate annual rainfall of 13 inches (33cm) – making it one of the wettest places in the state – with a normal high summer temperature of 97F (36C).

Councilman Michael Mathews argued that because Barrett intends to be water-wise in his development, it would likely be better than any alternative that will come as the land is likely to inevitably be developed for another use like neighborhoods.

“Think about the water use that’s [neighborhoods] going to make,” he said. “I don’t see this [resort] densely packed with residences, so I think as far as the water use goes, that’s a trade-off right there …. I’m kind of proud of Cottonwood that you would even consider bringing something like this to us.”

“Personally, I think it’s great,” he added. “That land is going to be used for something, and it’s probably not going to be a wilderness preserve in the future, so I think it’s good.”

No details have yet been provided on the proposed wave pool technology for this project.

Overall, the council and commission gave Barrett their support to keep pursuing the project. Following what is sure to be a lengthy public process. If approved, Barrett would want to start by using local builders to construct the surf park and residences.

The full town meeting can be viewed here

Endless Surf 2023A