Water useage in an arid state

richsdJune 13, 2013

Hi members. I thought I'd post a comment on water useage, especially now that we're in the high-use summer season. This is my first summer back in the valley after a Cal. hiatus for several years...

I probably water more than many of my neighbors in my Ahwatukee neighborhood. Many of them have hot, gravel covered front yards with a few oleanders or pigmy palms here and there- but no lawns. And many of the neighbors that have lawns don't maintain them correctly. My point is, am I viewed by the general public as a water waster? I try not to use more than is necessary to have a good quality, lush front yard. I don't flush the toilet often; recycle all my stuff. I realize I could renovate to a xeric landscape. I've thought of doing it. But, as summers here are more frequently in the 110+ range, I'm all the more motivated to have a cool "oasis" as my front yard (especially my lawn.) I'm a big advocate of a healthy lawn's benefits- cooling, beauty, O2, CO2 eater, foot- feel... and it enriches the soil.

My City of Phx water bill in the summer (including sewer and trash) approaches 200/mo. How does this compare with other members? To be accurate, I should find out how many gallons/month I actually use...

My thoughts are that water follows the money. If valley area farmers are willing to pay what homeowners are willing to pay for water, there will be fewer residential developments because of a lack of water for homes. From what I understand, the state's active management areas require that residential developments have a long term water supply available before development can occur.

IMO, urban areas like Tucson and Phoenix (and esp. Phoenix) should encourage, not discourage, lush, green landscaping because it lowers the heat island effect (as well as air pollution components.) It's speculated that one day the heat island effect will be so great that Phoenix sees an overnight low of over 100. I don't know if this is realistic, but I read it.

Opinions? Are any neighbors hostile to your water use in the garden?

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GeeS 9b

$200/month? Holy crap! I have 300-400 xeric plants out in my property, so thickly planted in spots that it's difficult to walk though my yard, nearly all on drip. I irrigate for 2 hours twice per week through summer. Water bill is $60/month.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 7:00PM
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Well, I am at the other end of the spectrum from GermanStar - my water bill tops $250 during the worst of the summer heat, but I am on Town of Cave Creek water. So even in the winter it's a base rate of about $90, lucky me!

I look at it this way: I do not have a pool, which takes a ton of water according to my friends that do have them. I am not a pool person but I am a garden person so my indulgence is my garden rather than a pool.

I personally don't want the maintenance of a lawn, but I understand wanting an "oasis" in our harsh climate. I have created my oases on the front and back porches with lots of potted plants such as palms, hibiscus, Arabian jasmine, etc. (see attached photo)

I too am an ex-Californian and grew up in the Bay Area during the drought of the 1970s. People got really judgmental about other people's water usage, and I remember people coming to blows over not letting their lawns die and my parents drilling a well - in the city, LOL!

People in AZ don't seem to be that concerned overall about water usage, which I find interesting. Not that some aren't, just as a rule I don't see the awareness here. I do like xeriscape and I think there is great beauty in the natural desert, so my front "yard" (I'm on over an acre so it's more like the front 1/3 of an acre) is all pretty much xeriscape and my back is a mix of creosote, saguaros, fruit trees, rose bushes, citrus trees, grapes and an enclosed veggie garden. It's quite a mix!

    Bookmark   June 13, 2013 at 11:26PM
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GeeS 9b

^ Well, it looks very nice, GQ. No pool here either. I can tell you, it wasn't easy finding a home in Fountain Hills with no pool, but I finally managed. I was also looking at some horse properties in Cave Creek at the time (9 years ago), but settled on FH because I didn't trust WIFI (no cable in CC then), and my business relies on high speed Internet access. I have a better view here, but miss the privacy the CC properties offered. Oh well, we can't have everything...

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 12:25AM
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Oh, sure you can-did I mention that I'm a real estate broker? Hee, hee... funny, because my hubby's a techie (in security-shhh) and we are happy with our blazing-hot wi-fi service from Black Mountain Broadband. Nice to know there's someone else in AZ who is not a "pool person" :) Thanks for the compliments on the patio!

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 12:36AM
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As an out-of-state East Coaster who loves to visit Arizona (and one in the horticulture trade)...the difference between "that doesn't belong here" plantings in the Phoenix area and the Tucson area is quite striking.

I'm not counting areas with flood irrigation just to be fair about it...which there's noticeable pockets of in Phoenix.

That said, I see a lot of stuff in Phoenix that just seems like an unnatural battle vs nature. Trees that do not belong...expansive lawns that don't belong...invasive species being grown...

I see so much more of this in the Phoenix area. Sure, one can say "I have the money, so why not?"...but there's other things to be said, too...most of which I won't say.

It seems there's more than a few people living in the desert that don't actually want to live in the desert...they just want to live somewhere warm.

Also, as a horticulturalist, I can tell you honestly that a lawn has little effect on an area's urban heat map effect beyond the very immediate area, whether it be 1 yard or an entire sub-division in an area like this. In order to have a noticeable effect over a large land mass...there would have to be a lot more lawn than the water supply could support spread over a huge area. Trees (especially deep rooted natives/evergreens with wide canopies) and native/adapted ground hugging shrubs do a lot of that work with far less inputs. When water use is factored into it, that cooling effect becomes a resource and environmental negative.

I'm not anti-lawn...but there's a lot of lawns I've seen in the extreme desert areas of Arizona that could use some serious scaling-back (or just a fall/winter/spring seeded variety lawn) considering the amount of inputs it takes to maintain them. You'd think you were in South Carolina or Massachusetts with 40+ inches of rain a year by the looks of some areas/lawns...huge blocks of green...summer watering schedules that are a battle against the natural environment...grass varieties that are better suited for a golf course in the Mid-West than a lawn in the desert...

This is just something I've noticed as an outsider. Looking at real estate out there (mostly on-line) I'm a bit equally alarmed at the huge amount of pools on almost every piece of land that's 1/4 acre or more. I understand why it would be attractive as a selling point (and convenience for those that use it), but like a large lawn...that too, is an environmental luxury in the desert.

Just keep hoping/praying the Colorado River (and snows in states above) keep providing...or prepare to pay more as years go by for water while groundwater levels drop. CAP water and diverted surface water from surrounding rivers (Salt, Santa Cruz, Verde, etc) provides more than 1/2 the water used in central AZ...1/3rd of the overall total (if not more) is CAP water.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Fri, Jun 14, 13 at 5:36

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 4:57AM
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AZ GQ, good to hear your comments about people's water use awareness here vs. CA. I'd generally agree with you. When I was living in San Diego I had an uncomfortable exchange with my neighbor about this very issue. I didn't pick the fight and she was quite rude to me.

nc crn, I'll make a few comments on your statements. Since you're out of state, you may not know some of these points. If you've ever flown into Phoenix, you'll notice huge expanses of irrigated farm land on the fringes of the Phx area. Those farms are all heavily irrigated, not all efficiently either. So, I'm not all that worried about people having big lawns here if they're willing to pay their water bill. One of my biggest beefs is the lack of shade in parking lots here. It's a result of poor design, not a lack of water IMO. Sacramento, for example, has a requirement of 50% shade for parking lots (I don't think they're meeting it though.)

Many of the golf courses and commercial grassy areas use recycled water (purple piping to designate that.) The main type of grass they grow is bermuda, which is the most water efficient choice there is.

GQ, by the way, interested in planting some creosote. Do you notice that it inhibits neighboring plants from growing? that would be a negative.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 10:08AM
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GeeS 9b

@nc-crn: IMHO, the reason for all the unnatural and/or inappropriate landscaping in the VOTS is that this is essentially a place of transients. People move here from other parts of the country in droves, and feel no allegiance to their new homes and neighborhoods, and don't necessarily take to the natural beauty of the desert, at least right away. This manifests in several ways, landscape is but one. Very different in Tucson, a true Mecca of xeriscape, which offers several of the finest cactus nurseries in the country, if not the world.

If opportunity presents, take a drive through Fountain Hills sometime, you might like it. We are all about living in the desert, rather than replacing it.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 11:39AM
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Rich, I have not found creosote to negatively affect nearby plants and I too have heard some people say that and am beginning to think it's "urban legend", LOL! I have peach, pomegranate, apple and aprium (cross between an apricot and a plum) trees all planted within 2-5 feet of big, mature creosotes and they are all thriving. There's nothing like the smell of creosote when it rains-mmm!

I am lucky to have lots of creosote naturally occurring on my property, but if you need to buy some creosote plants don't make the mistake that I did. I bought 2 small plants at the Botanical Garden sale one fall because I wanted a couple more in a certain spot and I tried getting seeds from my existing bushes started but that didn't go so well.

So, my thought process was, "Oh good, the rabbits never eat the creosote, so I don't need to build wire cages for these." WRONG! Next morning there was nothing but little nubbins where my pretty bushes had been. I told a friend who is a horticulturist and he laughed and laughed and told me that of course they ate them, they had all of those nice nutrients in their systems that the growers had used to get them looking so nice and healthy.

So there's another lesson: when you first put in a plant from a nursery, even if it's "rabbit-proof", cage it for at least a few months until it works all of that fertilizer out of its system.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 6:16PM
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I'm originally from the east coast and now live in Tucson. I have to say, I hate to see grassy lawns here, especially if I walk past them being watered mid-day. I do miss being barefoot in my front yard - a common occurrence back in Georgia and a foolhardy venture here - but I just can't countenance the waste of water here, even if I were the one paying for the privilege.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2013 at 6:59PM
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grant_in_arizona(USDA Z9 Scottsdale AZ)

This is a really fun discussion, I love it and the accompanying pics! Other than citrus, my garden is very very xeric and my watering bill is low. I too have noticed how much more water the Phoenix area and its residents use. Part of it is that we have access to more, having paid for a water delivery system that Tucson did not, but there is still plenty of waste, especially in much of Scottsdale/Phoenix where there are beautiful lawns in public areas between the sidewalk and a parking lot of a strip mall or between the sidewalk and a community entrance or business. I always tell myself "you're not in Tucson when you see this!".

I love Tucson and I love how it's more of a desert city overall than much of Phoenix. That being said, to each their own. Fun discussion! Happy gardening!

Take care,

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 1:14PM
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Screw your nosy neighbors. If you can afford and want it---water away. You really have to work to keep grass green in the summer. There are some tricks. I also don't like grass but it is nice to lay in when lush.

My summer water bill is nearly $60 a month but I have a flood irrigated 1/2 acre 200 tree high density orchard (+$100 a year). Loamy sandy soil with heavy mulch.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 8:28PM
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Well, to be fair...the more water use/pressure in an area where water is scarce...the more you're going to see things like minimum billed scales (already in effect for some Phoenix water systems) and higher prices all around...so what your neighbors do, does matter...if enough are doing it.

Phoenix/Tucson, in particular, rely heavily on access to Colorado River water (for over 1/3rd of the water source) and ground water levels are trending down rather than up as population increases...which will lead to more water use.

Already, cities like Phoenix are doing things like building construction projects for California cities/towns in exchange for a few years/decades of parts of their water rights to the Colorado River. Tucson has a chunk of an Indian reservation's water rights for few decades in exchange for updating some of their infrastructure.

These are rather desperate measures in the eyes of some to keep up with demand for water. It's business-as-usual right now...but there's only so much water to wheel and deal for...this does nothing to build on to count on for the long-term future.

There's over 4m people in the Phoenix metropolitan area and another 1m in the Tucson metro area.

More-so than California, the Colorado River is keeping Arizona alive. Ground water (of which, part of the CAP water is dumped into the ground to recharge it) cannot keep up with the population demands. So much depends on keeping rights, expanding rights, battling with other states (and Mexico) for rights, and bargaining with areas that have excess for part of their rights....and of course, the Colorado River keeping on providing thanks to snows/rains in other states.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Sat, Jun 15, 13 at 22:01

    Bookmark   June 15, 2013 at 9:52PM
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I have 15 acres in west central Oklahoma and have 200 pecan trees ranging in size from 4 inches to 30 feet. It gets really dry and hot here. I found that I could put a 6 inch diameter PVC pipe 24 inches long in the ground next to the young trees and one gallon of water will keep the tree alive for one week. If it doesn't rain, they must get another gallon one week later. I put 20 inches in the ground and leave 4 inches sticking up so baby animals and turtles will not fall in and be trapped. Photo attached.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 7:23PM
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thanks for the post, graydog. Interesting method to water your trees.

I'd consider doing that, but my soil is so rocky, I'd have a hard time sinking a pvc pipe in the ground.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 8:45PM
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That's cool graydog. I was wondering if at some point the trees can take care of themselves without any supplemental water?
I'm working on a property (12.5 acres) in Sunizona, Az. I've been planting Desert Museum Palos and Jujubes. I water them about every 6 weeks and have only lost 1 palo out of 6 because of the cold. I think they all should survive on their own now after 1 year.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 8:53PM
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When I see lush lawns out here, I don't think oasis, I think wasteful and ignorant homeowners. I too don't see the awareness and respect for water here, like in other parts of the country. At the same time, I don't like to see homes with a bunch of rocks/gravel in the yard. There should be some kind of challenge for xeric yards in Phoenix. I would also second planting more trees in parking lots. Good discussion.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 2:17AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

You really can't have a discussion about water here in the Southwest without acknowledging drought as a critical factor. nc-crn has correctly identified the CAP as the reason we have as much water as we do. (In Phoenix, the CAP provides 2/5's of the water that we use.) That is Colorado River water and the river is dependent on rain and snowmelt far north of us here in AZ. Those states - and AZ - are in a long-term severe drought. (That's the primary reason wildfires are increasingly difficult to control, but that's another story.) We live in a land of plenty - or so we think - but imagine for a moment if you turned the tap and no water came out. That's not likely to happen in our lifetimes, but it may well happen in our grandchildrens' lives if we - and our elected 'leaders' - don't become more cognizant of our water reality and plan accordingly.

Here is a link that might be useful: Drought monitor

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 11:02AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

For more of where your water comes from - in the Phoenix metro area - this is a short (and cheery) explanation.

Here is a link that might be useful: Phoenix water sources

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 11:06AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

And here's why Tucsonans don't waste water like Phoenicians do. I venture to say that most Tucson residents have been better educated on the subject and use water more wisely. Still, they're just as dependent on the CAP and its ability to deliver water far into the future as we are.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tucson water sources

    Bookmark   July 13, 2013 at 11:14AM
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From PHX's 2012 Water QC report: The sources of PhoenixâÂÂs drinking water include rivers, lakes, streams, springs and wells. In 2012, about 97 percent of
PhoenixâÂÂs water came from surface water that mostly started as snow pack. PhoenixâÂÂs primary sources of untreated
surface water are the Salt, Verde and Colorado rivers. Some water from the Agua Fria River is mixed with water from the
Colorado River when stored in Lake Pleasant. The water was delivered to one of the cityâÂÂs five water treatment plants.
Colorado River water is delivered to the city via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) aqueduct. Water from the Salt and Verde rivers is delivered via the Salt River Project (SRP) canal network. The remaining three percent of drinking water was suppliedby about 20 groundwater wells currently operated by the city.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 12:49AM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Many of the city's wells have been closed due to chemical contamination. All the more reason to be aware of the effects of drought on water supply.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2013 at 3:18PM
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What if we used all that water wasted on lawns for watering shade trees instead and change our landscaping to take advantage of the little rainfall we get. Would Phoenix be a whole lot cooler. I wonder if there is anything we can do to change our climate here. I heard somewhere they are experimenting in the middle east with making parts of the desert greener. Why not do it here.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 1:29AM
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Grass only roots a few inches...trees, especially natives, root many many feet deep and can draw water from rainfalls long in the past.

The future of arid area urban landscaping is innovated heavily in the Middle East. It's not widely used in the US yet, but concrete that allows water to infiltrate into the ground (rather than becoming runoff/waste-water) is part of that innovation. It's already being put in use all over the US (even in areas without huge concern). This type of technology is very useful for parking lots, for a start. One day it may be how every piece of sizable non-road hardscaped flat space (sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, etc) are built, especially in arid areas.


This is a past project in Arizona where they've installed a permeable concrete surface in an existing parking lot. Rather than the water running off into the street or evaporating, it adds to the water table. Granted, you're going to need a lot more than this to do any good, but it's a start and if widely implemented could make a noticeable impact. It's something that will probably be more widely implemented (if not required) for future generations, though the technology is being built and innovated upon currently. No one is going to force anyone to rip up existing parking lots/sidewalks/driveways/etc, but it may find it's way into building codes in many areas in the future...especially in arid areas.

This post was edited by nc-crn on Mon, Jul 15, 13 at 2:06

    Bookmark   July 15, 2013 at 1:43AM
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Perhaps if the endless building on the edges of the desert so that greedy builders could continue to make profits were curtailed there might not be such a huge water problem in the Phoenix area.

And if builders were required to build shade structures over the endless strip malls that might help reduce the horrible heat island that has been created in this place.

I would also comment that most desert areas in the world have green spaces that are an oasis. That has been almost completely obliterated in this area now.

Who wants to live in a hot, dry, brown space? Didn't used to be that way around here.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 11:21AM
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I appreciate all the words regarding water usage and waste in the Phoenix area. But no one has talked about the real water hog in the state- agriculture.

If you look at a pie chart of water use in the state, the agriculture component would be 68 percent (ADWR website citation.) Growing alfalfa in the desert takes tons and tons of water!

Imperial valley in California is the epitome of water waste in the desert. Because it secured its water rights before the cities did, it gets to gob up massive amounts of water at low prices.

With all this in mind, picking on people who grow grass in their yards (like me) is kind of silly, IMO. So let's keep things in perspective, people.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Well said richsd. Absolutely

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 3:15PM
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"am I viewed by the general public as a water waster?"

Probably, whether justified or not.

I feel all of us living in arid deserts with drought conditions need to be responsible, individually and collectively, for wise water management, to include appropriate water thrifty plant section, rainwater harvesting, and low flow plumbing fixtures.

Extravagant lawns in such places, to me, may show irresponsible land stewardship. I say "may" because the casual observer may not know everything the homeowner is doing (or not) with their water, and "judging" your neighbors without all the facts isn't a cool thing to do, imo. Maybe that lawn is irrigated from captured rainwater. Maybe there's a graywater system. Or maybe they are using up a year's worth of drinking water in an afternoon.

This post was edited by Violet.West on Tue, Jul 16, 13 at 15:39

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 3:30PM
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I would question the knowledge, wisdom, and, and common sense of the "general public" in Arizona, considering some of the politicians elected in this state. Not a measurement tool I would use.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 3:51PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

A bit of food for thought...

Here is a link that might be useful: 5 gallons a day

    Bookmark   July 16, 2013 at 5:10PM
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I was born in Phoenix and have lived in Maricopa County my entire life. When I was a child we lived in Maryvale and everyone had grass lawns, front and back. We would go to visit family and friends that lived twenty miles away in any direction and everyone there had grass lawns front and back. Later we moved to the Moon Valley area and everyone had grass lawns, we did not begin to see desert landscaping or now xeriscaping in a big way until about twenty years ago, it was mostly billed as being low maint. as far as upkeep not, necessarily low water usage. We did learn in school that it was not good to waste water leave the faucet running, wash your car in the driveway, just general wasting of water, but never did that have to do with your lawn you just were not supposed to let the water run into the gutter.
It seems funny to me to think that people think having lawns is because of us having a transient population, because as a child the only people that had desert landscaping were the transplants from other states. It also seems funny that people think having a lawn is a waste of water. Is having your garden a waste of water? You could save that water by rolling to the store and purchasing all of your fruits and veggies. No, of course it isn't a waste, you get the benefit of the enjoyment of growing your own food, and growing something that is better than what you can get at the store. People get the same enjoyment out of their lawns, so how can it be a waste. Of course you should be responsible with your water usage as with everything else. I am not sitting here spraying water into the street, I am spraying it on my lawn, have fun walking on and laying around in your rocks. Tell your neighbors to mind their business or give them a little shower next time.

This post was edited by CaptainInsano on Tue, Jul 30, 13 at 12:09

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 12:03PM
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Remember too that many large lawn areas like golf courses, parks and HOA common areas use reclaimed water. This is the water that goes down your drain which the cities capture, treat to near drinking water standards and reuse on landscaped areas, for cooling towers or for recharging the aquifer below the Phoenix area.

Communities that use reclaimed water have to store it either in above ground 'lakes' or in below ground tanks and then pump it onto the landscape. Lakes in HOA areas are often confused as being wasteful when actually they are part of the reclaimed water system.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 12:27PM
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well said, Captain

    Bookmark   July 30, 2013 at 6:54PM
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