Water supply

Groundwater is pumped into one of the canals managed by the Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District.

CASA GRANDE — A task force with members from 29 Pinal County entities will take up the groundwater supply torch from Arizona Rep. David Cook’s Ad Hoc Committee on Groundwater Supply in Pinal County.

The task force was formally announced at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday. Cook, R-Globe, proposed in October creating a task force chaired by Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, with William Garfield from Arizona Water Company and Jake Lenderking from Global Water Resources as vice chairs.

The groundwater supply committee has been investigating the situation in Pinal County since late September. The Arizona Department of Water Resources released a report in October stating that the county did not have enough groundwater to supply its existing and future demands for the next 100 years. At the end of those 100 years, the county’s water supply will fall more than 8 million acre-feet short of the estimated 80 million acre-feet demand projected by the department, according to its estimates.

Miller, Garfield and Lenderking sent Cook a letter listing 29 possible members of the task force. The list includes representatives from nearly every major city in the county, three local utilities, six agricultural interest groups, six development interest groups, four local organizations, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and two Indian communities.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, asked how Miller, Garfield and Lenderking selected the members of the task force.

Miller responded that the trio tried to come up with a list of everyone who might be affected by the problem including developers, farmers, cities, water companies and the public.

Miller said the list was just a starting point and the task force was open to adding more organizations or individuals.

“We want to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “If there’s a group that you think we’re missing, we want to know.”

ADWR Director Thomas Buschatzke suggested adding a representative from the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to the task force.

Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón, D-Sahuarita, suggested including members from the state’s universities. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University both have experts who could provide information about studies and management practices.

Cook suggested asking the Western Growers and other farming and ranching groups, such as dairies and the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association, to join.

Miller said the task force had already considered inviting the universities to present information and would certainly include the CAGRD and the Western Growers.

Rodriguez said he hoped the task force would consider adding some consumer protection and conservation groups.

Garfield said the task force was not “going to turn a blind eye to someone outside (the county) who can bring info in.”

Buschatzke suggested bringing in someone from the Arizona Corporation Commission. The ACC regulates the business side and rate schedules of water companies in the state and could help with the review of possible changes to state laws or regulations.

The letter also details a plan and timeline as to how the group will tackle the problem of the county’s finite groundwater resources. The task force plans to meet every two weeks and hopes to have a short list of possible solutions that could be implemented immediately within the next six months and a list of more complex, long-term solutions in the fall of 2020.

“This is a very aggressive schedule,” Gabaldón said. “Are you sure you can live up to this?”

Lenderking said while the schedule is aggressive, many of the organizations on the list had been talking about Pinal County’s diminishing supply of groundwater and possible solutions to the problem for many years.

“There’s a lot of knowledge and solutions floating around out there,” he said. “This is one way to put it all on the table.”

The task force would finally gather all of these organizations and their possible solutions in one location to hopefully come up with a solution or series of solutions to the problem, Lenderking said.

Rodriguez asked what the task force would do if it couldn’t come up with a consensus on possible solutions.

Lenderking said there may be some solutions that some members of the task force may not like, but he was confident that the task force could come up with a list of solutions that all members of the group could work with.

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing what you come up with,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. He said he has been a member of numerous committees in the Legislature that fade into obscurity after interest in whatever problem the committee was created to address diminishes.

The groundwater supply problem in Pinal County, however, is a problem that needs a real solution, Campbell said. It isn’t an issue that people are likely to lose interest in and he is excited to see the solutions the group comes up with.

Gabaldón agreed. She said she hopes the solutions that the task force finds can be expanded to include the whole state.

“I don’t envy you,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to come up with a real solution for a situation where you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”