LIVING WITHIN YOUR MEANS
By Ken Janecek
Everyone knows how important it is to avoid an overdraft on their checking account. It shouldn’t be hard to understand that our water supply is not infinite, but some people believe that as long as they turn on their faucet and water comes out, there is no problem.
California’s drought provides some important lessons for us. There have been 4 droughts of serious proportions in California in the past 100 years and each one created a flurry of activity to conserve water and build new infrastructure to augment supply to areas most affected. When each drought ended the urgency disappeared and growth continued without provision for the next drought.
This current California drought may be different. It may reduce precipitation about the same as other droughts but now the water demand for agriculture and people is higher than ever before. Surface water and ground water inventories are being depleted at a ferocious rate. Over 2 billion dollars of agriculture has been lost and the drought is not over.
The governor asked for voluntary conservation of 20% but total cuts are less than 9%, so they may make mandatory restrictions until they are living within their means. Some municipal water providers and agriculture districts are finally recognizing that they can make voluntary reductions instead of allowing the government to dictate how cuts will be made.
In urban Arizona, threats by the USBR to reduce the CAP supply of Colorado River water has everyone scrambling to voluntarily reduce demand to avoid having the USBR dictate how the cuts will be made.
Here in Williamson Valley we are dependent on ground water for our supply. Many areas are showing a steady decline of the water table which is telling us we aren’t “living within our means” in those areas. We don’t see a “bathtub ring” like they do at Lake Powell and Lake Mead to remind us that the decline of our aquifers is real. For some residents their first acceptance that overdraft is unsustainable may be when their well goes dry.
Even though our overdraft issues are less dramatic than California or urban Arizona, we need to change our consumption of water to live within our means. Less than 2% of all our precipitation makes it to the aquifer. Even modest efforts to harvest rainwater will make a difference. Outdoor water consumption can be greatly reduced with use of xeriscape plantings. Gray water can be piped to outdoor landscape plantings.
What happens if we fail to live within our means? Wells may go dry and property values decline. Like California, we might then decide to build a pipeline to augment our declining ground water supply. But it will cost more than anyone today would be willing to pay, and it would take decades to be completed.
When I was a kid I remember my grandmother telling me a very simple truth; “A stitch in time saves nine.” Can we reduce our water consumption to “live within our means?”
WATER ISSUES IN THE WEST
By Ken Janecek
This article discusses how issues covered in previous newsletters are part of the “Big Picture” of water all over the West.
The Williamson Valley Corridor is in the Upper Verde River drainage basin, which is part of the vast Colorado River basin that covers much of the intermountain region of the US from Utah and Wyoming in the North to the Mexican border in the South. The distribution of the surface waters in this Colorado River basin to the water rights holders is managed by the US Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). They built most of the dams and pipelines that collect and move the water to rights holders. USBR and other government groups monitor and inventory the surface and ground water in the 7 basin states and Mexico that have rights for portions of the flow. These rights holders met recently with USBR in Las Vegas to discuss how they will meet future water needs throughout the basin. Although that meeting did not result in final decisions, all the data collected from studies was presented. Now, the delegates from all 7 states and Mexico will go back to their constituents to discuss what they support for meeting future demand. Agreements for water distribution do not occur rapidly.
Southern California receives half of the Colorado River allocated to the Southern division of the Colorado Compact states of Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. But that only serves a small part of California’s demand. The headlines of every newspaper in California are documenting how dire their water situation has become. In the past, voters did not expect nor approve infrastructure plans that would mitigate a 15-year drought, and they had not implemented strong conservation regulations. A large part of their water supply serves agricultural crops that require copious amounts of water. For example, California provides a large part of the almonds for the whole world. Many growers have lost their trees because of the drought. Export of these almonds represents an indirect export of the scarce water supply required to grow them.
With the drought breaking 100- year records, California is now imposing very strict conservation regulations and proposing a $7.5 billion infrastructure project to deliver more water from Northern California to Southern California. That will not solve all their water shortages, so there will be other changes. It is unfortunate that voters did not accept planning for sustainable water supplies before the current crisis. The damage from this drought will continue for a long time before the infrastructure improvements are in place to help.
The water issues for the other 6 Colorado River basin states and Mexico are just as serious as the California problems, but not quite as urgent. Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the 2 largest reservoirs in the Colorado basin, are at 48% and 40% of capacity respectively. That is the lowest in the history of these reservoirs, and the levels have been on a downward trend ever since they were at 100% of capacity in 1984. When the level in Lake Mead drops another 10’ to 1075’ elevation, the Bureau of Reclamation will begin curtailing deliveries to the lowest-priority users in the basin. In the Southern half of the basin, comprised of Arizona, California, Southern Nevada, and Mexico, the first cut of up to 400,000 acre feet will be Arizona’s Central Arizona Project (CAP) system, and a small part of Las Vegas. If the level drops another 25’, to 1050’ elevation, Hoover Dam will stop generating electricity with their hydropower turbines.
If the level continues to drop another 25’ to 1025’ elevation, there will be extreme cuts to Arizona’s CAP system and Southern Nevada’s supply. If the level drops to 1000’ elevation, Las Vegas will lose its intake supply from Lake Mead. It has such great concerns about that possibility, that it is building a new lower elevation intake for over a billion dollars. It is also planning a $16 billion pipeline from aquifers 300 miles north of Las Vegas to supplement their Colorado River supply.
Why are levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead dropping? Part of this is because in 1922 the Bureau of Reclamation incorrectly assumed that the Colorado basin delivered 16.5M acre feet of water every year, when in reality the average since 1922 has been about 13.5M acre feet per year. Originally the basin did not need all the water, but in the past 20 years requests for water to serve growth have finally exceeded the sustainable 13.5M acre feet per year, so the level began to drop in the reservoirs. Now we are in a 15-year drought which has produced less than 13.5M acre feet per year. Some dry years produced only 5-7M acre feet. Part of the drought effect is caused by the warming climate which has reduced snowpack and increased sublimation of snow to the atmosphere. Some forecasters have predicted that the current drought may continue indefinitely, and even intensify so that the Colorado basin may produce up to 30% less water by 2100.
It would be nice if that was the only bad news, but continued growth for the Colorado basin predicts another 3.2M acre feet of demand by 2050.
The latest aeromagnetic study of the Colorado basin determined that 75% of the 17 trillion gallon reduction in the water inventory was lost ground water. Only 25% is the decrease in basin surface water reservoirs. For the future, that will mean lower ground water flows to the reservoirs from springs, which supplement the surface water runoff from rain and snow.
Coming back to our local issues, Yavapai County and the cities and towns of the Upper and Middle Verde basins were on track to develop plans for meeting the huge projected water shortage for 2050, with the $600,000 CYHWRMS project which has taken 7 years to develop. For details of this huge project see the Yavapai County web site (http://www.yavapai.us/bc-wac/cyhwrms). However the county and the cities that developed this project through the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee (WAC) have eliminated funding for the WAC coordinator. Just when they were ready to finish the CYHWRMS project by deciding what to do to meet 2050 demand, the WAC forum for meeting and deciding what to do, has dissolved.
The county and the cities need to find another vehicle for discussing and deciding what to do with the CYHWRMS conclusions. If the WAC coordinator position had not been eliminated last summer, perhaps by now the stakeholders would have agreed to fund a Feasibility Study by the Bureau of Reclamation to evaluate one or more of the alternative solutions presented in the CYHWRMS report. .
Flagstaff and Coconino County, like the Verde basins are going to need to augment their local surface and ground water supplies. They are working on a feasibility study with the Bureau of Reclamation for augmentation that will meet their water needs for the next 50 years or more. Yavapai County could possibly partner with Coconino County to find a joint solution to serve both counties.
Large complex solutions for sustainable water augmentation take decades to complete. The CAP system serving Maricopa County and Tucson took 40 years. If we are to stay on track to have a system to meet demand for 2050, we need to continue the CYHWRMS process we started 7 years ago. The best and cheapest sources for importation of water to Yavapai County will disappear as Central Arizona grows.
Las Vegas recognized they would face a future shortage and made the hard and very expensive choices, but now they are on track to meet future needs.
California voters were swayed by special interests years ago to vote against building infrastructure to meet demand in the event of a prolonged drought, and now agriculture will pay a heavy price for many years trying to build new infrastructure to meet their water needs.
As individuals living in the Williamson Valley Corridor we can do our part to conserve indoor and outdoor water, collect roof and driveway drains to water our landscaping, convert landscape to low water use Xeriscape plants, and use gray water for outdoor landscape watering. This could be a good 2015 New Year’s Resolution. It could save you money or slow the decline of the water level in your well. For some well owners it could even prevent the well from going dry.
Many of us won’t be here in 2050. But we are the stewards who must continue the planning so there will be a solution for 2050. Encourage your elected representatives to restart the stalled CYHWRMS project.
WATER NEWS FOR OCTOBER 2014
By Ken Janecek
 Projections for Ground Water Supply for the Prescott Active Management Area(PAMA) and the Big Chino Sub Basin of the Upper Verde River
Dr Peter Kroopnick. an expert in ground water flow modeling, has used the NARGFM [Northern Arizona Regional Ground Water Flow Model], created by the USGS in 2012, to project the impact of continuing the current pumping in the PAMA and the Big Chino to 2100. He also added the proposed pumping at the Big Chino Water Ranch by the city of Prescott and PV to project the impact of these activities on the levels of the ground water and flows of the Upper Verde River to 2100. The maps Dr Kroopnick presented of the PAMA and the Big Chino show the water table dropping 100’-200’ for many areas by 2100, including parts of the Williamson Valley Corridor. The graph of the Verde River flows at the headwater springs at the Paulden Gage shows a steady decline from the assumed start of pumping at the Big Chino Water Ranch in 2025 to almost no flow by 2025. The NARGFM model does not factor in the possible compounding impact of climate change, or the positive effect of importation of water to our area from the Colorado River.
The cities of Prescott and Prescott Valley, and the Salt River Project have agreed to spend $1.5 million over the next 5 years to develop more monitoring wells and surface water gages in the Big Chino aquifer, and a more detailed “nested” model for the Big Chino within the NARGFM model. These new sites will augment existing monitoring sites for collecting data to input into the more detailed “nested” model. This data will give a more precise picture of where and how much the Big Chino water levels will change, but Dr. Kroopnick’s presentation on the use of the existing model already shows the general result of what will happen to water levels in the Big Chino and the Verde River flows.
 Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition Grant Proposal
Only 2% of total precipitation in our area makes it to the aquifer as recharge. The Coalition has a goal to try to increase that recharge to 3%. That would erase the current overdraft and reach the Safe Yield goal set by the ADWR for 2025. It would also mitigate the proposed pumping by Prescott and PV from the Big Chino Water Ranch to the PAMA.
The Coalition’s consultants have prepared an application for a 5 year grant to study the impact on ground water recharge of removing vegetation from 17,000 acres of national forest, state trust land and private ranches on the west side of the Big Chino basin. The study will also examine the impact of plugging up major washes with rocks to create temporary pools that could increase recharge.
Applicants from all over the US prepared 600 proposals in the first round for this grant pool of over $93 million. To receive an award, each applicant must show at least a 51% match for the requested award. The Coalition’s application has been approved along with 200 others for the more detailed second round evaluation.
There is a lot of controversy as to whether cutting down junipers and pinions to create more grassland will increase recharge. There have been several studies that indicate such vegetation management does not increase surface water runoff in areas receiving less than 20” of annual precipitation, but no studies measured the effect on ground water recharge.
There are some unknowns in the current proposal such as what to do with the 17,000 truckloads of vegetation cleared from the study area. If it must move down Simmons Highway and Williamson Valley Road, these big trucks may create road damage and traffic congestion. No buyer or disposal site has been chosen at this early stage of the application. Assumptions about how fast the vegetation will grow back are general and not site specific, so costs to maintain the increased grasslands are still estimates. No impact study has been done on Pronghorns, deer, rabbits and the whole environment in the Big Chino study area.
 Restructuring the Yavapai County Water Advisory Council
The old Water Advisory Council (WAC) structure started in 1999 will be phased out. It required 100% of the members’ consensus to approve any water policies. Many ideas are being discussed for a re-structured WAC but nothing has been approved yet. The current vacuum created with the phase out of WAC will affect key issues such as what to do with the very elaborate comprehensive CYHWRMS report that took 7 years to complete. All the cities and water providers in the Upper and Middle Verde basins must choose what alternatives they want to use to meet the huge unmet water demand they will face by 2050. Dialog among these stakeholders is critical to coordinate selecting which alternatives to pursue in the next phase of Feasibility Study with the Bureau of Reclamation.
 Continuation of the 14 Year Drought
It is hard to remember that we are in a drought with weeds everywhere and mosquitoes proliferating from standing water after a great summer monsoon. And the weather people are still projecting a 65% probability of a moderate El Nino this winter. But they also say the weather patterns are likely to continue the drought next year, which could create a bumper crop of dry fuel for wildfires. Weed whackers will need spare parts and more rolls of string!
It will take a year before we have any idea whether this 2014 monsoon, and we hope a productive El Nino this winter, will improve the declining water tables in many parts of the Williamson Valley Corridor. Every Corridor resident should be re-examining whether more can be done to conserve indoor water use, collect rooftop drains, use gray water for outdoor landscaping, and convert to Xeriscape plantings. The drought problems in California should be a wakeup call for us to ramp up our actions to make our declining ground water supply last as long as possible.
Do we really need more water?
By Ken Janecek
We live in a beautiful place. The climate is great and the scenery is spectacular. Our area frequently appears in magazines as one of the ten best places to live and retire. The penalty for that great sunny climate is that we only get about 14” of precipitation a year, and the sun is trying to evaporate 60” per year. The result of that imbalance is that only 2% of our precipitation ever soaks in to recharge the aquifers. The Little Chino aquifer that underlies much of the Tri-Cities area took thousands of years to fill, and we are mining it 2’ per year. Some of the private wells around the edges of this aquifer have gone dry and the rate will accelerate as we grow. Some areas along the Williamson Valley Corridor have seen the water level drop 8’ per year.
When the first white settlers arrived from the East in 1864, they saw the bounteous flow of Del Rio Springs north of Chino Valley and made it the capitol of Arizona for a year. The builders of the railroad being constructed through Flagstaff recognized the wonderful resource Del Rio Springs was and built a spur to access the water for their steam locomotives. Today as we celebrate the sesquicentennial of the first settlers arriving at Del Rio Springs, the flow is down to 10% of that original pre-development flow, and by 2025 it will be dry. This is a common story over much of Arizona as our technology to pump water has exceeded the local aquifer natural recharge.
The rivers of Arizona have also been harnessed to serve the rapid growth of our state. The Verde River is the last remaining perennial river in northern Arizona, and the upper 26 miles from Paulden to Clarkdale has decreased in flow by over 30% since settlers arrived from the East.
Over-drafting of ground water in our area has been known for many years. The Arizona Department of Water Resources [ADWR] made it official in 1999 when they declared the Tri Cities area out of “Safe Yield”, [the balance point between pumping and natural recharge]. That put a restriction on new development using ground water. Sadly, developers heard about the 1999 declaration before it became official and grandfathered 32,000 more platted lots that are allowed to use ground water. This water situation is not hopeless, but it means we will not be able to treat it like an inexhaustible resource anymore. We will be forced to prioritize use. We can do more to conserve water inside our houses and especially for outside landscaping and gardens.
We can install passive rainwater collection and detention to water natural and landscape vegetation. We can install more elaborate systems to collect roof runoff in tanks that can water gardens and landscaping by gravity or with pumps and timers, to supplement or replace pumping ground water.
The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee [YWAC] knows the ground water mining can’t go on forever, especially with the projected growth of our area as the baby boomers retire and read in the magazines about what a great place we have here. YWAC started the “CYHWRMS” project in 2007. This is collaboration between ADWR, YWAC and the US Bureau of Reclamation [USBR] to define projected water needs for the Upper and Middle Verde basins, and possible alternatives to meet those needs. Now, after 6 years, the report is finished and it does show we will have a huge unmet water demand by 2050, and there are at least half a dozen practical alternatives we could take to meet those water needs. Leaders of YWAC, ADWR, and USBR will now start meetings with all the 102 private and public water providers in the Verde basin study area to decide what each provider will do to meet their part of the water shortfall for 2050. They will look at the cost, legal issues, environmental issues, and social-political issues connected to each of the alternatives.
The most likely result of this dialog with the water providers will be to define how much of the expected shortfall can be met by conservation, rain water harvesting, and recycling, the “low hanging fruit” alternatives that cost the least to implement. Judging from the size of the shortfall for 2050, there will probably be half a dozen of the big municipal water providers who will still have unmet demand after considering conservation, rain water harvesting and recycling. They will consider importation of surface water, perhaps from the Colorado River, at a big increase in cost relative to what we have paid in the past. However, if that becomes their choice, that infrastructure would be developed at least 20 years in the future.
The cost estimates used for comparing the CYHWRMS alternatives for meeting water needs of the future were “generic” and not site-specific. When the YWAC water providers decide what alternatives they will use to meet the shortfall for 2050, the next step would be to do a Feasibility Study. This would be another partnership with the USBR to do a site-specific engineering study for piping, pumping, and storing imported water to supply each of the water providers. This Feasibility Study would be a 50:50 cost share with the USBR and would have to be approved by the US Congress, so this could take some time.
Coconino County did an Appraisal Study with the USBR and chose alternatives to evaluate in a Feasibility Study that is now in its third year. Their study suggested they will need to bring Colorado River water to Flagstaff to meet future demand. One possibility for YWAC would be to partner with Coconino County to do a Feasibility Study together to extend the pipeline from Flagstaff to all the YWAC cities, and share the cost of the project.
We can hope the YWAC cities can develop and implement a strategy to meet future water demand. On a personal level we can increase our efforts now, to conserve water, harvest rainwater and reuse what we can, to make our dwindling ground water reserves last until a dependable, permanent, and expensive importation system can be installed to serve the Tri-Cities area.
Water Myths and Realities
At the WVCO community meeting in April, Ken Janecek presented a well-received presentation of the water issues facing Williamson Valley residents. He addressed these key questions: How much water do we have now? How long will it last? What can we do? What are you willing to do? This article presents some of the information Ken provided at the meeting.
How much water do we have?
The water available to you depends on the geology of your area. Water in limited quantities can be stored in cracks in volcanic or sedimentary rock or in much greater quantities in the alluvium of aquifers. The east side of the Williamson Valley corridor is in the western edge of the Little Chino aquifer. The Granite Oaks, Royal Oaks and Blackjack communities are in this area. In the north end of the corridor, the Long Meadow Ranch, Las Vegas Ranch and Crossroads I communities are in the Williamson Valley aquifer which is a sub-aquifer to the Big Chino aquifer. The remainder of the Williamson Valley corridor is in rock that may or may not have much water storage.
Recharge and water stored depends on precipitation, evaporation and transpiration (the water lost through the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts). Figure 1 shows the historical average monthly precipitation in Prescott. Note, however, that we have been in a drought for several years so that recent precipitation amounts have been much less than is charted.
Figure 1. Prescott Average Total Monthly Precipitation (5/1/1898-12/31/2005).
Much of the precipitation is lost to evaporation and transpiration and does not get stored. Figure 2 shows the potential monthly evaporation and transpiration in Prescott. Because the potential is much greater than the actual precipitation most of the precipitation is lost to these processes. Both evaporation and transpiration increase as the temperature increases. The warming trend in Arizona (the temperature increase last year was the largest of the states)
Current UsageThere are currently about 2000 private “exempt” wells in the Williamson Valley corridor. In Arizona, an “exempt” well is a domestic well equipped to pump 35 gallons per minute or less to serve water for any uses related to the supply, service and activities of households and private residences. Some of these wells are in alluvial aquifers but many are in hard rock cracks. Figure 3 shows the locations of these wells.
Figure 3. Exempt Wells in the Williamson Valley.
In addition, there are four private water companies serving Williamson Valley residents. Talking Rock and Inscription Canyon are served by wells in Mint Wash located in the Williamson Valley aquifer. The Granite Oaks water company provides water for Granite and Royal Oaks from three wells nearby in the Little Chino aquiver. The Granite Mountain water company serves residents west of Williamson Valley road and American Ranch has its own water company.
How Long Will it Last?
Much of the Prescott area has been in a water overdraft situation for many years. Water usage exceeds groundwater replenishment. How long before the wells dry up depends on human consumption and the climate. It has been estimated that the Williamson CDP population in 2050 will be 11,845. At current per capita consumption this will double the water used in the area. If current climate patterns with increased temperatures and reduced precipitation continue, the groundwater replenishment will decrease as well.
Many areas of Williamson Valley are already experiencing dropping groundwater levels. For example, Figure 3 shows the rapidly dropping water levels for a well on East Bridle Path. Table 2 lists water table changes for many Williamson Valley communities. With one exception, levels are dropping, some as much as 8 feet a year. At these rates, even the deepest wells in the Little acquifer will be dry before the year 2050.
Future Water Options for Williamson Valley
By Ken Janecek
Today, a majority of wells in Williamson Valley (WV) are showing a decline in water level. Your lifestyle and your property value depend on having water. If it has to be hauled in by truck as some have to do now, you can imagine what will happen to the desirability of your property. If population doubles by 2050 as the CYHWRMS study suggests (discussed below), our water supplies will be further stressed.
Because of the complexity and cost of securing new sustainable water supplies, WV residents need to recognize the future problem and start making decisions now that will assure future needs will be met.
Fortunately, Yavapai County leaders recognized that the whole county will face future water supply problems and inn 2008 funded a $600,000 Appraisal study administered by the US Bureau of Reclamation. This comprehensive study known by the acronym CYHWRMS, is almost finished. The first draft report is available on the county’s web site under the CYHWRMS acronym. The report identifies a huge shortfall in supply by 2050, [including the WV Corridor] and documents a dozen possible sources of water to meet the demand shortfall. What is missing is a commitment by all the cities, towns, and private water providers to pay for a solution that will satisfy the 2050 demand.
Over the next few months all the stakeholders(cities and Yavapai County) who will need more water are expected to decide individually which alternatives they will financially support, then come together to see if they can agree on one or at most 3 options to pursue to the next stage of evaluation with the US Bureau of Reclamation. That would be called the Feasibility study, which does some detailed engineering to get more accurate costs for making final decisions on what to do.
Coconino County is 7 years ahead of us. They completed a Bureau of Reclamation Appraisal study 7 years ago and are now doing a Feasibility study for a pipeline from Lake Powell to meet their shortfall for 2050. One of the CYHWRMS alternatives considered is partnering with Coconino County to share a pipeline from Lake Powell.
It is not clear what residents of WV would be willing to support, but we already have some of the fastest declining water tables in the county, so we need to decide what we are willing to do. [Translation: pay for.] If we don’t agree to support a solution to augment our ground water supply we will see more and more wells go dry and WV could get a reputation for having water supply problems that reduce property values.
Even if we wanted the new supply now, we would likely have to wait 20 years before we have it. Government moves very slowly. The good news is that we can say today, that we want a solution, but the actual cost for building infrastructure to supply new water sources won’t hit for perhaps 20 years.
Conversely, if we say we don’t need to decide “now” on water that will be needed 20-30 years from now, and we wait 10-20 years to see how much we will need, the cost could be astronomically higher to buy water rights for a new supply. For example, Arizona has a fixed amount of Colorado River water it can take each year. If Maricopa County and Tucson continue to grow and buy up Arizona’s Colorado River water rights, the diminishing supply of rights and the increasing demand could bid up the prices so high that we can’t afford to compete with the big developers downstate.
WVCO would like to hear what you want to do. We can voluntarily conserve water, plant native trees and xeriscape, and collect rainwater but we are still likely to need more water from a new source. Most likely, that new source would involve a pipeline down WV Road and spurs to every neighborhood. Because of our large lots, the cost per lot would be higher than in a city like Prescott. Subdivisions already served by private water companies would have only a minor cost hooking in to the existing distribution system but private well owners would bear the full cost of a new distribution system in their neighborhood. Plus a new supply could include 200 miles of pipeline from the Colorado River and a treatment plant. Are you willing to pay for that, starting in perhaps 2035?
Read the executive summary of the CYHWRMS study on the county web site and send us an email outlining what you want to do.