Keeping water in the desert

There are actions that need to be taken on every level: Federal, state and county. We residents are doing our part with water conservation and rain-water harvesting. However, when industry is not subject to any regulations and agriculture has been given the right to a 2.5 million acre foot annual deficit, our efforts are canceled.

In the July-2008 fact-finding Town Hall on water in this region held by U. S. Congresswoman Giffords in Sahuarita, the emphasis focused on any action that could be taken on the Federal level. Several laws could be enacted by the Feds to save the states from their own short-sighted legislators, who are often ranchers and irrigation farmers—a phenomenon that exists not only in Arizona, but throughout the western U.S. and probably the mid-West.

Federal regulation will be necessary to coax the states to use better water management—after all, the Feds are the ones who are expected to bail the states out when the crisis comes. For example, the Federal government has given the authority to the individual states to manage water in public lands. This policy has created a tremendous loss of trees—counted to be in the millions in Arizona. The forests need enough water to survive—even reserves for drought conditions. In Arizona, major problems are in Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff and several areas of Pima County, but the issue is creeping across the state. Plenty of dead trees are now visible in the Santa Ritas. How can trees survive when we are pumping water levels down to 1,000 feet. And where will we get the water for fighting the ever-increasing wildfire challenge?

Federal (or State) Level:

I am sure that there are the same water problems in other states as in Arizona. Here are a couple of suggestions for the Federal Government to make some changes that would help water management in all of the western states.

1) A national law that forces the states to connect surface and groundwater management, so that groundwater pumpers cannot rob riparian habitat, rivers, streams, creeks and springs of their water. [AZ is not the only state with denial of scientific reality in its water law.]

2) Federal law to protect water levels in National Forests and Parks to maintain surface water and stream flow levels for habitat and forage for animals, birds, fish, critters and creepy crawlers. In the mid-nineties, the park service published a report on the danger of water depletion to the Sahuaro National Parks in Tucson.

3) Subsidized cotton payments should be stopped in regions that do not have the water to sustain groundwater water levels.

State Level:

There are many “holes in the bucket” in Arizona law. The innovative “groundwater code” of 1980 patronized every special interest group in Arizona, totally leaving out people and nature.

Sustainability for humans and nature:

1) Identify specific riparian areas, rivers, creeks, springs and limit pumping adjacent to them to prevent draining of these areas that are essential to the well-being of humans and nature in all its forms.

2) Replace 100 year water requirement for Assured Water Supply with a continuous supply.

3) Replace the pumping down to 1,000 feet for Assured Water Supply with maintaining the current groundwater levels.

Groundwater pumping to 1,000 feet means

a) no surface water for animal and bird habitat or groundwater within reach of roots of even the largest tree.

b) increased water rates because water quality is poorer at deeper levels, especially in Arizona with its natural occurring heavy metals that are injurious to human health.

c) increased water rates because pumping at deeper levels increases the electrical use.

d) increased risk of subsidence as soil dries and compacts with receding water levels.

4) Allow AMA’s to create smaller management areas, needed in such areas as Arivaca, Saddle Brooke and Queen Creek.

5) Limit exempt wells in AMA’s, or at least subject them to impact rules on the neighboring wells.

6) New mining operations should to be subjected to mandated hydrological criteria and well-spacing rules, as should be all industrial users.

CAP and other imported water management:

7) If there is a shortage on the Colorado River, the highest Municipal and Industrial (M & I) category of CAP water needs to be arranged intelligently. People should be the highest on the list, along with necessary industrial services. The two heavy water users, golf courses and metal mining (both in top M & I category), should be moved down the list, after food crop category.

8) Agriculture should be divided between food, animal food and non-food crops, such as cotton, and water should be dispersed on the CAP priority list accordingly in case of a shortage.

9) In case of a shortage on the Colorado, Indian CAP water should be subject to the same categories as the standard CAP allocations for the rest of the state, especially Indian subsidized cotton should be moved down the list.

10) Stipulate that Groundwater Replenishment District (GRD) water has to be delivered directly to water company, or recharged within three miles of user. The GRD is criticized for having paper water, but the truth is they do not even have paper water to fulfill their obligations into the future. GRD members (homes built after 1995) are going to be facing increasing water GRD taxes on their property tax bill. [This applies to AMA’s with CAP delivery—Maricopa, Pinal and Tucson.]

Replenishment obligations

Arizona received Federal support for the CAP project because agriculture was depleting the aquifers at a rate of 2.5 million acre feet per year. This ag use with its overdraft was “grandfathered.” Further, there were no replenishment obligations for agriculture use. Also, smaller, but significant users, golf courses and metal mining, fall in the same category. In mining regions, there are always water depletion problems.

11) Industrial users and agriculture users should have replenishment obligations, at least a percentage of their use, with an escalating scale increasing in the future. This recharge does not have to be with CAP water, but can be accomplished with watershed resotration and stormwater recharge projects. The town of Chandler has done model work for everyone to use as an example for stormwater recharge.

Local Government:

1) Require nurseries to sell only low water native-type plants. Appropriate lists are available from ADWR, Tucson or Phoenix Botanical Gardens.

2) Fines for watering the sidewalks and streets.

3) Sane, scientific regulation of wastewater, which is now considered a valuable commodity. Wastewater plants should be scattered around the counties in the areas where reuse of effluent is needed. Pumping groundwater for effluent recharge credits should be eliminated.

4) Regulation to prevent the creation of new artificial ponds with groundwater, such as the 350 acre-foot pond at Canoa golf course in 2002.

5) Stormwater recharge facilities. Tens of thousands of acres of land in Sahuarita floods every year (gets worse every year) and nothing has been done by the County. They have claimed since it’s on private land, they won’t interfere. First, the water flows down public washes and roads—so it should be a public concern. Secondly, the County should be proactive to get this water into the ground for the good of all.

Ideas? Comments? Suggestions? Contact Nancy Freeman,, 520-207-6506

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