CASA GRANDE — According to one Pinal County developer, the county’s water woes have already started.
“As of right now, we have no water,” said Patrick Johnson, the president of the 2,500-acre Attesa motor sport complex planned west of Casa Grande, told an Arizona House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Groundwater Supply in Pinal County Friday.
“As of 2014 when my partner and I bought that property, there was no problem,” Johnson said. “We applied for water. And in 2015 we were told the (new groundwater) model would be out. There would be a brand new model out and by golly we were going to figure it out.”
The new Pinal County groundwater model was announced and posted to the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ website during the committee’s meeting in Casa Grande Friday afternoon.
Farmers, developers and local governments had been waiting to see the results of the new groundwater model for nearly five years.
The water resources in the county will fall more than 8 million acre-feet short of meeting the county’s demand for 80 million acre-feet over the next 100 years, said ADWR Director Thomas Buschatzke, citing the study.
According to the model, about 2 million acre-feet of the unmet demand is located in areas under development that have an assured water supply from ADWR. The largest share of unmet demand, 6.1 million acre-feet, is located in the county’s municipal and industrial areas. The remaining unmet demand, 5.1 million acre-feet, will hit the agricultural sector.
According to the model, after 100 years, several areas around the county will see their groundwater levels drop below the Pinal Active Management Area’s depth limit of 1,100 feet below the ground surface.
The Pinal AMA regulates how groundwater in the area can be used and is designed to make sure that there is enough water to support future generations.
The model predicts that groundwater pumping for all users will increase from 59 million acre-feet between 1920 and 2015 to 72.4 million acre-feet over the next 100 years. The first time the depth to groundwater will exceed the 1,100-foot limit will be sometime in 2074. Some areas may see some ground subsidence as groundwater levels drop, according to the model.
Eloy will have the greatest drop in groundwater level at the end of the 100-year mark with a projected drop in depth to water from about 200 to 300 feet below the ground surface to more than 1,258 feet below the surface.
The model used historical data, 2015 well and pumping data, the use of Colorado River water and the estimated amount of water being demanded through ADWR’s assured water supply program, to determine how much groundwater would be left in 2115. It also tried to take into account how many new subdevelopments under the assured water supply program have been completed, partially completed or are currently sitting idle.
It also factored in a slight decrease in agricultural water use over the next 100 years as more subdevelopments move in and as farmers get more efficient at using water.
However, it also assumes that all water users are withdrawing their maximum allotment of water from the first day they are approved and every day after. The model also doesn’t take into account the amount of treated wastewater that might be recycled and reused or groundwater replenishment programs, because there wasn’t enough data available and the amount being recycled or replenished back into the ground isn’t enough to make a difference over 100 years.
Chelsea McGuire, the director of government relations for the Arizona Farm Bureau, objected to some of the model’s methods.
She pointed out that the use of water by Pinal County farmers varies from day to day and year to year, as well as from crop to crop. Farmers are also getting more efficient in water usage and are looking for lower-water-intensive crops that can provide revenue for their farms. She admitted that the agricultural industry in the county is shrinking but it will probably never disappear, she said.
“It (agricultural water use) will get smaller not because agriculture is going away but because we’re getting better at what we do,” she said.
Casa Grande City Councilman Dick Powell suggested one possible solution to the county’s water problems: a cross-country pipeline that would siphon off floodwaters from an area near the head of the Mississippi River. The pipeline would transport the water to an area near the head of the Colorado River. The water would flow downriver, supporting all of the communities and states that use Colorado River water, including Pinal County.
The pipeline would be similar to a smaller pipeline proposed by Utah to pipe water from Lake Powell to St. George, Utah. The Lake Powell Pipeline Project was proposed in 2006 and is expected to cost around $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion and deliver more than 86,000 acre-feet of water to communities along its path, according to the Lake Powell Pipeline website.
Some solution must be found that the public is willing to pay for, Johnson said.
“I’ve heard plan. I’ve heard analyze. I’ve heard study. I’ve heard all this crap over and over and over again because everybody knew this for a long time and they don’t do anything. There’s one thing we need. We need water, guys,” he said. “At this point, my partner and I have $22 million invested in this project and we would like to get it out of the ground. I think everybody here, at least everybody in this county, would like to see some employment and tax revenue. As it stands right now, it’s not going to happen.”