When severe drought conditions began more than a decade ago, Tucson Electric Power volunteers began helping state officials provide water for desert wildlife.

In partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, TEP donates the use of a 3,000-gallon tanker truck — and the water — and employees volunteer their time to drive the water out to remote areas to fill dozens of catchments across the desert.

The desert catchments provide water for big horned sheep, Chiricahua leopard frogs, deer, mountain lions, javelina and birds. Lack of water can drive these animals out of their natural habitat.

“Game and Fish officials didn’t have enough resources or volunteers to do this on their own, so they asked us if we would help,” said Bruce Buffum, a recent TEP retiree who oversees the effort. TEP retiree Joe Sheehey has volunteered alongside Buffum for longer than a decade.

During the driest stretch, starting in about 2006, TEP volunteers were hauling water several days a week, filling catchment pools that were drying up.

“We worked weekends and probably three days a week after work. Sometimes we wouldn’t get back until 10 or 11 at night,” Buffum said. “We went as far as Safford, Arivaca, Nogales and Sierra Vista.”

Game and Fish notifies TEP when and where the catchments need water, and then volunteers respond. The work typically starts in April and goes through the end of July, or when the monsoon rains start. Sometimes, the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District will donate water to fill the tanker truck.

TEP received an award from Game and Fish for the volunteer efforts. For Buffum, he simply enjoys the outdoors and wants to do what he can to keep the wildlife population healthy.

“We were honored to step up and help out,” Buffum said. “I hope we’re coming out of this drought, but we’ll keep doing this as long as necessary.”

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