Imagine A Day Without Water? Many Rural Arizonans Already Can.

As you head to the kitchen to make your first pot of morning brew, imagine turning on the faucet and no water comes out.  How would you feel? What thoughts would go through your head?

This is not a scene from some fictional apocalyptic movie. It has already happened in several communities in Arizona due to groundwater overdraft.  Overdraft occurs when the amount of groundwater pumped exceeds the amount of water recharged back into an aquifer.

On June 7, 2015, featured a story on declining groundwater levels in the Willcox area of Cochise County.  Jen and Ralph Score came home from church to find their well had run dry. Willcox farmers, John Hart and Jim Graham, had both observed groundwater levels dropping and noticed their cost to pump water for their crops had increased.

This was not the first time homeowners turned on their taps to find nothing there. In 2014, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) responded to concerned Cochise County residents by conducting a survey of well conditions in the Willcox Basin area. The results were startling. Of the 60 responses, 18 wells had gone dry, 9 had declining water levels or lowered production and 27 reported nearby wells going dry and/or concern over current conditions. Only 2 respondents had no current well problems.

In adjacent Pima County, a similar trend has occurred. On October 25, 2014, the Arizona Daily Star featured a story entitled “Well’s Drying up on Tucson’s Fringes.” The article highlighted Tortolita Mountain foothills resident Glenn Phillips, who purchased his home in 1980. Philips noted his well “would run over each time it rained in the winter” after he first bought his home.  He recalled being able to “pump and pump all you wanted.”

Phillips is no longer pumping water. He has been forced to haul thousands of gallons of water to his house every 12 days. His decision to haul water came after spending $60,000 on two additional wells, one of which went down 1,060 feet and went dry in 2011. His neighbors are facing the same water shortage and water hauling situation.

In the far western side of the state, residents of Mohave County are scrambling to stay in front of rapidly declining groundwater levels but the situation is only getting worse. Between 2001-2005, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) hydrologists noted that the Hualapai Aquifer was being overpumped by approximately 5,900 acre-feet per year.  As of August 2014, the Kingman Daily Miner reported that geologist Luis Vega estimated a negative recharge of 32,000 acre-feet a year in the Hualapai basin. (Keep in mind each acre-foot of water is equal to 325,851 gallons).

These reports and studies on the Hualapai Aquifer occurred years before multiple out-of-state farming operations moved into the area and gobbled up thousands of acres of Arizona land, precisely because of the limited rules on groundwater pumping in Mohave County. In fact, an April 5th, 2018 article noted “more than 160 new wells, some pumping for water-heavy crops like alfalfa, have sprung up in recent years.” This begs the question, how long will the water last?

In the northern part of our state, it is well known that the Navajo Nation has extremely limited water resources. Many tribal residents drive miles and miles to fill containers and tanks to haul water back to their homes every few days. Some even drive as far as Flagstaff to get water. Leaders of the Navajo Water Project “estimate about 40 percent of Navajo Nation members don’t have access to running water in their homes.”

Fortunately, most of Arizona’s major population centers live in areas that are served by multiple sources of water. Much of the Phoenix metropolitan area is served by the Central Arizona Project, the Salt River Project, groundwater, and reclaimed water.  Tucson relies on groundwater, Colorado River water, and reclaimed water.

Still, while multiple water sources may be available for our urban centers, more must be done to protect our state’s most vulnerable and precious commodity – groundwater This situation is not only exasperating for many rural residents but also clearly unsustainable.

How would you respond if you suddenly found your household without water?

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