TUCSON, AZ (KOLD News 13) - As the temperatures rise, so does the urgency to protect the 50 Humane Borders water barrels placed throughout the deserts in Southern Arizona.
The 55 gallon barrels are frequently vandalized and the precious water inside poured on the ground.
“I’ve had barrels set on fire, they use some sort of charcoal lighter,” said Joel Smith, who has been taking care of the barrels for the past ten years. “I’ve had power tools taken to my barrels, shot, stabbed, stolen, drained.”
There is no way to tell how many lives have been saved by having the barrels in strategic sites near the border, but Smith believes some have been.
“I think it’s a moral obligation to keep people alive,” he said.
But not everyone shares his belief.
One barrel had 17 bullet holes, another 16 stab wounds, another needs to be cleaned after being doused with bleach.
Now, Humane Borders may have some help protecting them, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department.
The department was denied Operation Stonegarden money last year by the Pima County Board of Supervisors, but has applied again for the federal money, which is used for overtime and equipment for the sheriff’s department to patrol the border in remote, rural areas.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, in a recently released memo, is urging the board to approve the next round of funding but with a set of conditions.
One of those conditions is that the Sheriff’s department will investigate cases of vandalism and report those cases to the Pima County Attorney’s Office for prosecution.
In a statement, the department said it “fully accepts and supports...the recommendations.”
The county board will vote on whether to accept the Stonegarden grant and conditions next week.
District 5 Supervisor Richard Elias is not sure how the vote will go or whether he’s inclined to vote for it or not.
“I think we should have been doing this all along,” he said. “I think it’s egregious that we have not.”
However, as far as Stonegarden funding goes, Elias doesn’t believe it changes things at all.
“When somebody damages those blue barrels and leaks out the water and it’s not there, the consequences can be dire,” he said.
Elias says regardless of whether the Stonegarden money passes, he will discuss the increased enforcement.
For the folks at Humane Borders it is good news.
“In the past we’d report them but nothing ever happened,” Smith said. “It was kind of like a rabbit hole.”