COOLIDGE — Hundreds of gallons water from the Colorado River gushed through a pipeline and spilled into two newly developed earthen basins near Coolidge’s city limits, marking the fruition of a project that has been years in the making.
Under the federal Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona will likely see a reduction in its water allocation from the Colorado River this year.
As Colorado River Basin states continue to examine the need to make cuts in the use of water coming from the Colorado River, Arizona Water Company’s Pinal Valley Recharge and Recovery Facility seeks to provide more reliable and sustainable water supplies, officials from the company said.
Arizona Water held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in partnership with the Coolidge Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday afternoon at the recharge and recovery facility, where the utility showcased two of several basins designed to send water from the Central Arizona Project underground.
“The future of the Southwest looks a lot drier today than it did in the past, but with good planning and the right investments, we can manage these changes and support the growth of the economy that we have seen in recent years,” said Arizona Water Company President Fred Schneider.
The PVRRF is the first underground storage facility of its kind in Pinal County. But the 66 acres where the recharge basins stand was not always intended for underground water storage.
When Arizona Water purchased the property in 2004, the company was interested in developing a surface water treatment plant for CAP water.
Constructing a surface water treatment plant, however, would have been cost-prohibitive to utility ratepayers, said Mark Kieren, Arizona Water Company general manager in the area.
“We felt that it was probably a better solution to look at recharge and recovery,” Kieren told those in attendance at the ceremony.
At full build-out, the water company estimates that the recharge facility will cost approximately $7.5 million — just a fraction of the cost of a standard surface water treatment plant, which could be $100 million.
The project will also likely save millions of dollars that would have otherwise been put toward the operations of a treatment plant. Water quality guidelines set by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality require that surface water be properly filtered and disinfected in treatment plants.
By contrast, groundwater is not required to undergo extensive treatment. As water passes through the aquifer it runs through the soil, which acts as a filter.
Planning for a recharge facility began in 2014, with a mission of reducing the region’s native groundwater withdrawals, Kieren said.
Nearly six years later, the water utility was able to showcase how the recharge basins work at the grand opening of the facility. Located adjacent to the CAP aqueduct within the Coolidge city limits, the PVRRF currently consists of two basins that pump water directly from the aqueduct and into the ground for storage.
Arizona Water will ultimately build out the project to include three additional recharge basins — resulting in a total of five at the facility — and will use new and existing wells to recover the water.
According to Schneider, at full capacity the project will recharge about 12,000 acre-feet of water, supplying enough for approximately 40,000 homes per year.
The basins feature a number of rock pilings that mark where ground penetrations have been made to funnel the water underground.
The design, Kieren noted, recharges the aquifer at a quicker rate.
“This project is instrumental in helping us to continue to provide reliable service to all the communities in the area (and) all of our customers,” Schneider said. “Really, it’s a vital first step of several steps of bringing in additional (water) supply to this area to help continue to grow the businesses, residential homes and (other) things that are needed for Pinal County.”