Looking for solutions to depletion

of our water supply

Appeared in Green Valley News Comments 1/15/06

The level of our groundwater, the Santa Cruz Aquifer, is going down two to three feet every year. The Tucson AMA is mandated to achieve “safe yield” by 2025. “Save Yield” means that there has to be the same amount of water put into the groundwater that is taken out. The plan assumes that Colorado River water or Central Arizona Project [CAP] will be used to make up the deficits. Although Green Valley is part of the Tucson AMA, its water companies are not designated with an “assured water supply”* status. This seeming oversight exists because there is real water and paper water. [Note: See page 3, 5 and 6 for information regarding Green Valley area.]

Here’s the catch: There’s no station to recharge CAP water in Green Valley. Seems like a formidable problem, but its no problem at all to the water authorities--for the balance only has to exist on paper. In other words, the water is required to be put back into the groundwater on behalf of Green Valley homeowners and builders can be recharged to groundwater 10 miles downstream at Pima Mine Road CAP Station—or even at the Marana CAP Station. On paper, legally, this recharge is a balance, a “safe yield.” But that is paper water, not real water. Frankly, this paper water is not going to quench our thirst.

Study on bringing CAP water to Green Valley
In 1996, a group was formed to work cooperatively with State and Federal agencies and water companies to bring CAP water to the area south of Tucson. The group, Upper Santa Cruz Water Users Group (USCWUG), obtained money from the Department of Water Resources to fund a study. In 1998, they published a comprehensive report: Sahuarita-Green Valley Area, Central Arizona Project Water Use Feasibility Analysis and Delivery System Optimization Study.

The crux of the matter was that it would cost 28 million dollars to put in the pipelines to bring water uphill to Green Valley. On top of that cost, there was the continual cost of pumping water uphill 1,000 feet, or “delivery” cost. The report didn’t even mention the additional costs of treatment of the “chemically distinct” water.

Green Valley Water Company has allocations for 1,900 acre feet annually and Community Water has allocations for 1,337 acre feet annually. The two major users of water--Phelps Dodge Corporation and Farmers Investment Corporation (Pecan Orchards)--do not have any allocations for CAP water. In other words, 28 million dollars (that was in 1998, it would be appreciably higher now) to bring water to serve only 5% of the water use in Green Valley did not seem feasible or sensible. The idea of using CAP water in Green Valley disappeared into the desert dust along with USCWUG.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation are both committed to the idea of bring CAP water here as the only solution. However, neither agency has made any move to do anything about it. When I called Eric Holler at the Bureau of Reclamation, he told her, “I’ve been expecting a call from someone in Green Valley. I knew it would come one of these days.” The management at these two agencies maintains that since the water companies in Green Valley have to pay for water treatment anyway, because of the lower level of arsenic mandated by EPA, the cost of treating CAP water will not matter. We must remember that CAP water is so nasty that when it was delivered directly in Tucson, it actually destroyed pipes. Tusconians have refused to use it without treatment.

Do We Really Want CAP Water?
Tucson went through huge expenses to bring CAP there, including a huge recharge filtration system, a treatment plant, which is now standing empty, and 5,000 law suits. Green Valley does not have this kind of infrastructure to support such expenses. Another issue is what public entity could even get the loans to pay the $28 million to put in the pipe lines. I think we residents have to participate in the question as to whether we even want CAP water.

However, there is one advantage of the use of CAP water that is worthy of consideration. I voiced concern to water authorities, questioning if there is going to be any Colorado River water at all, since I personally witnessed the river flowing a city block away from boat docks in southern Utah last spring. I was told that, should there be a serious water shortage, allocations to people (municipalities and Native Americans) will have first priority. In such an event, water pipelines to agriculture and industry will be shut down.

Actually, the water treatment rationalization might have been valid if someone had done something about bringing CAP water to Green Valley before 2006, so there could have been one water treatment plant built for all users at the CAP outlet (actually two outlets, since the plan was to bring a pipeline down each side of the freeway). As it is now, Community Water is installing four treatment plants to remove arsenic, Green Valley Water two plants, Las Quintas Serrenas at least one, and FICO may have to install one also, so who will have the money to build another treatment plant for CAP water? And every water authority knows it would require an entirely different type of treatment plant.

In addition to the capital costs to pay for the water allotment (Community water paid $422,492 capital fee with an on-going annual fee of $67,411) and to finance the 28 million (plus inflation and interest) for the installation of pipes, there is the cost of delivery. This means the cost of electricity to pump water 1,000 feet uphill over some 10 miles--continually. Has anyone considered the amount of water it would take to produce the electricity? Power plants are one of the biggest water users. So the obvious question arises: Are there any alternatives?

Benefits of other solutions
I personally think other alternatives of recharging with storm water need to be explored. The possibilities would be surface spreading and micro-basins in some major washes and/or the river bed to retain storm water long enough for it to soak into the ground down to the water level—which is now some 200 to 300 feet. There could be installation of dry wells to serve as injectors to help the storm water reach the aquifer. These plans are not “some pie-in-the-sky ideas,” they were among the recommendations of the Malcom Pirnie Environmental Engineers in their “Feasibility Analysis” in 1998. Let’s not dismiss the ideas. Even if CAP water should reach Green Valley in the future, that does not preclude having other plans in operation to augment the poor quality Colorado River water. For example, a couple of reservoirs up in the Santa Ritas could collect rain water and deliver it here by gravity.

The Bureau of Reclamation is now working on a couple of projects in the San Pedro River. [Note: The San Pedro is the only naturally flowing river west of the Mississippi – all others have been damned and/or artificially diverted in some way!] They are installing micro-basins in washes in Sierra Vista and doing some work in the river bed, such as creating berms to slow down the flow of water in critical areas, so it has time to penetrate the ground. These models can possibly be repeated here.

Pollution of Water is Depletion too
If the water is polluted by mine tailings, it is not fit to drink; therefore, that water is “depleted” from the water supply. The recharge of the aquifer along the river using some dry wells to inject water deeper into the ground would serve a second and very important purpose. The cleaner water along the river basin would create a mound of water to mitigate the continual movement of the sulfate plume from the Phelps Dodge mining operations. I am told by Phelps Dodge management that they have stopped the movement of seepage from their tailings impoundment by pumping of interceptor wells. However, there is at least ten years worth of seepage between here and their impoundment. Even thought they are required to clean it up, it is an onerous job that can’t be accomplished overnight. The injection of storm water along the river would keep the “sulfate plume” from moving toward the new wells now being drilled by Community Water Company. This same recharge potentially could be duplicated in the Sahaurita area, as the Twin Buttes mine operation has created the same problem there.

The efforts to recharge water need to be community wide. The golf courses use as much water as all the residents of Green Valley and Sauharita put together (3,600 acre feet annually). These courses all have low-lying sites that would make perfect recharge spots and the red tape would be much less since they would be on private property. [It takes a permit from Army Corp of Engineers to do any work in the river bed or its tributaries]. In addition, it could be stipulated that new subdivisions install dry wells for recharge and flood control, just as they are doing in Chandler and Scottsdale.

Since the residents in Green Valley only use 5% of the water use, it is easy to have an attitude: “what good does it do for us to conserve?” However, there are projects that residents can use to beautify their own property, while saving water. There is an incredible variety of low water use native plants that have showy flowers that attract birds and butterflies. Nurseries are stocking more of these plants and many have a water-use rating for each plant. The Groundwater Awareness League has information on these plants along with methods of using gray water and catching rain water

The longer we wait, the deeper the groundwater, the more the sediments compact, and the less likely storm water will reach the groundwater, making natural recharge more and more difficult. The Groundwater Awareness League wants something done now as far as creating a viable plan for enhance recharge. To facilitate this plan, they are arranging a meeting of representatives of all the concerned agencies who can give some input as to the most feasible plan. The participants would include the Bureau of Reclamation, USGS, AZ Department of Water Resources, and managers from the local water companies, Phelps Dodge and FICO, along with experts from Tucson Water Company.

No one considers that the situation is at a critical state yet. However, the experts need to decide on a plan, so the first steps can be implemented. The residents of Green Valley want to know that we are moving in the direction of having “safe yield” with real, wet water, not just paper water.

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