Sustainability: Rio Verde Community Association Award

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The Rio Verde Community Association has been designated as the first Certified Sustainable Community in Arizona by the Audubon International Sustainable Communities Program. To become certified, the association had to meet measurable goals addressing 15 focus areas, including wildlife conservation, habitat enhancement, water conservation, energy efficiency, health, and transportation. Gary Holcomb, president of the association, will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at the Rio Verde Community Association, which recently was designated the first certified sustainable community in Arizona by the Audubon International Sustainable Communities Program. Joining us now is Gary Holcomb, president of the Rio Verde Association. Welcome to "Arizona Horizon."

GARY HOLCOMB: Thank you, Ted.

TED SIMONS: Beautiful country out there, Rio Verde, it's just absolutely gorgeous.

GARY HOLCOMB: We absolutely love it out there.

TED SIMONS: Let's talk about this certified sustainable community in Arizona. What does this Audubon situation -- what's this all about?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, Ted, Audubon International bestows a sustainable community to those that develop a management and implement a long-term sustainable strategy. And Rio Verde was fortunate enough to do this; it's taken us nearly five years to do it. We had to focus on disciplines and management in 15 different areas.

TED SIMONS: Why would - because I know folks out there in Rio Verde, and I'm sure you have all sorts of folks with all sorts of beliefs and ideas - why did you guys decide to take this on?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, I think it's the right thing to do, and we also have a chairman that he and his wife probably are the most passionate people I've ever been around for sustainability, and I think they've gotten the whole community involved in this and I know they have, and it's really been a wonderful experience.

TED SIMONS: Now, there are measurable goals in 15 areas that you have to achieve, correct?

GARY HOLCOMB: That's exactly correct.

TED SIMONS: And let's talk about some wildlife conservation. I played golf out at Rio Verde, I'm telling you it must have been 30 years ago. It was like you were out there in the middle of nowhere. How do you now preserve some of this habitat?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, we still have a lot of wildlife there. But one of the things we've done is we've developed a butterfly garden, of all things, and it's on one of our holes, the 17th hole, of our white wing run course. And it's a beautiful butterfly garden, it has wildlife that come in there, it also has birds and things. And it's helped enhance the beauty of the golf course there.

TED SIMONS: Habitat enhancement. Now, energy efficiency is another one. I know we have a shot of your community center. It looks like it is tricked out. It looks like it is almost space-age material here. Talk to us about that.

GARY HOLCOMB: It's really up-to-date, and one of the things that we've done is you'll see the solar panels. The solar panels were installed about four years ago and they generate about 25% of our energy there. It's allowed us in the last four years to save 250,000-kilowatt hours and in excess of $21,000 in annual savings.

TED SIMONS: And that is the community center, correct?

GARY HOLCOMB: That is our community center. It's a beautiful facility.

TED SIMONS: Are a lot of homes in Rio Verde now converting to solar?

GARY HOLCOMB: There absolutely are homes that are now converting to solar. I won't tell you there's a lot of them but we do have homes that are doing that.

TED SIMONS: Okay, water conservation... and I'm going to mention water conservation because I've already mentioned I played golf out there. You've got two very beautiful golf courses. People are going to say the Audubon Society gives the sustainable communities program award to a community that has golf courses. How does that work?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, they're parkland style golf courses. We have two beautiful 18-hole courses that were just redesigned by Tom Lehman, and what we've done is we've taken 15 acres and we've converted it back to desert landscaping. That has not only saved us manpower but it's also saved us nearly a million gallons of water. So that's certainly helped in our conservation of water.

TED SIMONS: And again, you're explaining that these golf courses serve as park land as well?

GARY HOLCOMB: They are, but we still have - we're not the target kind of golf course - we still have our park land, but we had an excess amount that we're converting back, so it is saving us a tremendous amount of water.

TED SIMONS: I think we have a shot of the swimming center as well, and again, people will hear golf course and swimming center, how can you win an award for water conservation?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, we are working on it, but one of the things we've done is that we've converted our equipment from propane to high-efficiency heat pumps. We just redid our swimming pools the last two years and they're really beautiful facilities.

TED SIMONS: Another area of focus I believe I read was health and transportation.

GARY HOLCOMB: Health and transportation. One of the things that we're doing on our health is, Rio Verde community, its residents donate more than three tons of citrus to the local food banks. So we're trying to give back to our community through our citrus. We have a tremendous amount there in Rio.

TED SIMONS: I'll bet. Now, as far as the community efforts…all volunteer, most volunteer? Is the community buying into this?

GARY HOLCOMB: We have the most volunteers of any community that my wife and I have ever lived in. We have, from our golf courses to the management, everything is really run by our volunteers. And we couldn't be fortunate enough to have as many as we do.

TED SIMONS: I kind of alluded to this earlier because, you know, people have different beliefs and different ideas of what's right. Was there much in the way of naysaying involving this?

GARY HOLCOMB: You know, I really don't think so. One of the things that we've done is, each year we have an annual sustainable program. We have a fair in which we invite vendors. We will have speakers that come in that try to develop best practices for us. And so we're continually improving our sustainability program and looking toward the future.

TED SIMONS: I was going to say, are people giving you best practice ideas? Have you looked around? Has the community looked around at other areas - other communities - to get ideas?

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, you know, I'll say that we have, but I'm going to tell you something, there are only five communities in the United States that have won this award. Rio Verde is the only one west of the Mississippi. So I'm hoping communities will look at Rio Verde and say "This is a community that we would like to emulate".

TED SIMONS: So the other four designees are all east of the Mississippi?

GARY HOLCOMB: All east of the Mississippi, from Florida to Vermont.

TED SIMONS: So, why do you think you won?

GARY HOLCOMB: You know, I would like - I have to go back five presidents, it's taken us five years - but I would say that we have a management team that has a lot of foresight for the future. And we're trying to develop Rio Verde for the community that this next generation would like to be a part of.

TED SIMONS: And I was going to ask you, how does this benefit current residents?

GARY HOLCOMB: One of the things it's going to do is increase their home values we think. We're telling them to buy into this. We're going to get the next generation that's coming in…here are the things we need to do in sustainability is one of the most important we feel.

TED SIMONS: So overall, and I asked if you've gotten any ideas from other communities, are you finding other community associations coming out to Rio Verde saying, "So how did you win this award?"

GARY HOLCOMB: Well, we won this award on Earth Day, April the 22nd, so it's still relatively new, but one of the great things is that Rio Verde is located right beside the McDowell Mountain Reserve on the west and the Tonto National Forest on the east. So we have pristine areas in which to walk, bike, hike, play golf, and I think some of the most beautiful views in the valley, so we'd better be protecting our future.

TED SIMONS: Yeah. Well, congratulations on this. It sounds like quite an achievement. It's interesting to get a community to buy in on something like this. It's encouraging to hear.

GARY HOLCOMB: We're very proud of our community.

TED SIMONS: Well, thank you very much for stopping by. We appreciate it.

GARY HOLCOMB: Thank you.

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Gary Holcomb:President of Rio Verde Community Association

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