Water-Treatment Plant Owner Plans Public Hearing On Threats To Santa Cruz River

Nogales sewage

For the people of Nogales, Arizona, the sight of an approaching storm has become something to dread.

Water pouring onto the drought-parched desert of southern Arizona is a wonderful thing. All that water flowing into – and overflowing out of — the fast-disintegrating waste-water sewage system the community shares with Nogales, Mexico, is the stuff of nightmares. Rapidly worsening nightmares that may cost tens of millions of dollars to properly fix.

As a part of the long-running effort to resolve the sewage issues, the co-owner of the area’s sewage-treatment facility, has announced plans for a public meeting in the town of Tubac on September 13.

The purpose of the forum, sponsored by the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, or USIBWC, will be to promote the exchange of information between the USIBWC and the community regarding Commission projects and related activities in Pima, Cochise, and Santa Cruz counties. Specifically, the discussion will air issues regarding source metals that are being found in Nogales wastewater, as well as the health of the Santa Cruz River.

The Nogales sewage problems begin with a woefully over-taxed 8.8-mile sewage-drainage system known as the International Outflow Interceptor, or “IOI.”

At times, especially during storms, millions of gallons of untreated sewage have been spilling out of breaks in the nearly 70-year-old IOI and elsewhere in the system. In July 2017, the IOI ruptured under the strain of storm water surging up from Mexico, which, as reported by the Arizona Daily Star, spilled “raw sewage into a tributary of the Santa Cruz River and [caused] a significant spike in E. coli bacteria levels near the breach.”

And not just human waste, either. Untreated industrial wastes from Nogales, Mexico – which include regulated mater­­­­ials such as cadmium, lead, copper and zinc — have been discovered in “significant levels” in the wastewater. The pollutants are contaminating the Nogales Wash, under which the IOI is buried, as well as water leaching into the Upper Santa Cruz aquifer and the Santa Cruz River itself.

Health officials, including those from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, now believe that the overtaxed wastewater system is becoming a serious environmental threat to the health of the river, to say nothing of the thousands of Arizonans that rely on groundwater wells tapping into the area aquifer.

The Santa Cruz relies heavily on treated effluent from the Nogales International Wastewater Treatment Plant, or NIWTP, near Rio Rico. Co-owned by the U.S. Boundary and Water Commission and the City of Nogales, Arizona, the plant is designed to treat nearly 15 million gallons of water daily, which accounts for about 38 percent of the Santa Cruz flow at that point.

Roughly 10 million gallons of that daily capacity are allocated to Nogales, Sonora, a much larger community (pop. 212,500) than Nogales, Arizona (pop. 20,000). On the U.S. side, Nogales and Rio Rico are allocated 4.84 million gallons of capacity. Annually, Nogales, Arizona, uses just 12 percent of the IOI system providing the as-yet untreated sewage to the plant, while the vast majority of the rest flows north across the border from Sonora.

At the September 13 public meeting in Tubac, a hydrologist from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality will talk about metals in wastewater treated at the NIWTP.

The meeting also will include a presentation by representatives of the Sonoran Institute on the health of the Santa Cruz River.

Who: The International Boundary and Water Commission United States Section

What: A southeast Arizona citizens forum

When: Thursday, September 13; 3 – 5 p.m.

Where: Tubac Community Center; 50 Bridge Road; Tubac, Arizona 85646

Arizona’s Summer Monsoon Season Has Been A Lively One. But ‘Liveliest Ever?’

After a so-so start to the southern Arizona summer “monsoon” season, storms pounded Tucson through early August with almost rhythmic frequency.

It was much the same in the metropolitan Phoenix area, which saw an unusual spate of strong storms moving through Arizona’s south-central Valley on five out of six days beginning on August 7.

This year’s summer storm activity has been widespread. Arizona’s eastern mountains saw almost daily rainfall from mid-July through early- to mid-August.  To the north, meanwhile, the strong storms started in earnest early.

Persistent, heavy rain battered the Flagstaff region commencing in mid-July, generating flash floods and localized flooding in many Flagstaff-area neighborhoods.

On July 18, a an estimated “1,000-year” storm dumped an astonishing six inches of rain on Flagstaff, with 4.5 inches of it pouring down in a span of just two hours.

The summer storm season has been so strong at times, in fact, that it has prompted some to ask: Is this the strongest monsoon-storm season ever for Arizona?

There’s no simple answer to that.

Arizona takes its summer monsoon season seriously. There is an extended web of agencies, including the Arizona Department of Water Resources, that performs a vast array of services tied to storm activity.

The National Weather Service, for example, monitors the conditions that may provoke Arizona storms. It reports both locally and from the service’s Climate Prediction Center (a function of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Maryland.

A complex, multi-agency system in Arizona, meanwhile, uses sophisticated land- and satellite-based technology to track storm production, including rain levels and flooding, and gets that information out to the public as soon as possible.

ADWR is the lead State agency for the Arizona Flood Warning System, or AFWS.

The AFWS is comprised of local, state and federal entities that collaborate on statewide strategies for flood management.

Podcast: Arizona Water Resources talks with Brian Cosson, Flood Warning Coordinator for ADWR

So, what is all that data telling us about the strength of the 2018 summer monsoon season thus far? It has set records in Flagstaff. But elsewhere?

Paul Iñiguez, a meteorologist with the NWS in Phoenix, recently told the Arizona Republic that from the standpoint of rainfall, the summer monsoons have been very productive in central Arizona, too.

“From June 15th through August 12th, this is the second most rain on average across (Phoenix) since 1990,” Iñiguez said. “It’s been wet.”

Some of the strength of the summer storms may be derived from “moisture surges” egged along by “tropical cyclones.”

Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at the Climate Prediction Center with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told KJZZ recently about how “tropical cyclones” in the eastern Pacific basin are connected to Arizona’s monsoon storms.

Hurricanes, typhoons and other major Pacific storms all come under the general heading of tropical cyclones.

“Sea-surface temperatures, or ocean temperatures at the surface are strongly positive, meaning warmer than normal,” said Gottschalck. “And when those temperatures that are warmer than normal have been persisting for quite some time, there is more energy for tropical cyclones to develop.”

He said a spate of tropical cyclones in the eastern Pacific likely contributed to the moisture surges in Arizona and New Mexico that, among other things, produced the amazing string of consecutive stormy days in central Arizona.

Big Pacific storms, he said, do not have to  make direct hits on the Southwest to have an impact.

“The systems very often create moisture surges up the coast,” he said. “That very often tends to create stronger coverage of rainfall. In general, these storms don’t have to make direct hits on Arizona and New Mexico to do that.”

(For more on research into monsoon activity in Arizona, view the video below)


Latest Drought Contingency Plan meeting agenda is released

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, co-hosts for the series of meetings on an intra-Arizona Drought Contingency Plan for protecting the Colorado River system, have released the agenda for their August 9 meeting.

The agenda can be found  here.

Scheduled for between 1-4 p.m. at the Burton Barr Public Library in central Phoenix, Thursday’s meeting represents the second gathering of the group’s Steering Committee.

The public is invited to attend.



DCP Steering Committee slide presentation now available at ADWR website

A 22-slide PowerPoint presentation prepared jointly by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project on behalf of the new Steering Committee is now available at ADWR’s Drought Contingency Plan web page.

The presentation, released just before the July 26 Steering Committee meeting, offers an overview of the key elements for implementing a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona.

This first public meeting of the Steering Committee was scheduled at CAP headquarters in north Phoenix and is being videotaped for release on ADWR’s and CAP’s websites soon afterward.

It is the first meeting of the group whose mission is to recommend an LB DCP that is  acceptable to Arizona water users, and, ultimately, to facilitate Arizona joining with the rest of the Colorado River community in devising a strategy to protect Lake Mead from falling to intolerable elevations.


Agenda for first Steering Committee gathering on Colorado River drought-contingency planning is released

The agenda is out for Thursday’s meeting of the newly formed Steering Committee that will recommend how to adopt and implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan for Arizona.

The agenda can be found here and here.

Thursday’s agenda includes plans for discussing four key elements for implementing a drought-contingency plan in Arizona. They will include: plans for mitigating the impact on agriculture of a Colorado River water delivery shortage; tribal “intentionally created surplus” (ICS) water for Lake Mead; an Arizona Conservation Plan; and issues involving excess Colorado River water.

The Steering Committee was formed as a collaborative effort by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project to help protect Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels.

The Steering Committee’s mission is to recommend an LB DCP that is  acceptable to Arizona water users. In addition to the July 26 event, eight more Steering Committee meetings are scheduled to be held between now and December. All meetings are open to the public.

Thursday’s meeting, scheduled for 1-4 p.m. at CAP’s headquarters at 23636 N 7th Street in north Phoenix, will be recorded for a later posting on the ADWR and CAP websites.



Organizers of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan effort tab Steering Committee members

The co-sponsors of the statewide effort to complete a Drought Contingency Plan for  Arizona that helps protect Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels have named their Steering Committee.

The 37-member panel, co-chaired by Tom Buschatzke of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke of the Central Arizona Project, will gather for the first time on July 26 at the CAP board meeting room in north Phoenix.

The meeting is a first, major step toward bringing DCP to closure in Arizona by addressing a broad range of issues that respect the concerns of all Colorado River stakeholders across the state. The two co-sponsoring organizations previously hosted two public briefings illustrating the need for a Colorado River system-wide DCP and the perils facing the system without one.

The Steering Committee gatherings also will be open to the public.

The Steering Committee’s goal is to prepare the way for the state Legislature to authorize ADWR Director Buschatzke to sign onto a system-wide agreement on behalf of Arizona.



Groundwater flow model of Willcox Basin completed

drill rig

As a result of continuing observations of groundwater level declines in the Willcox Basin, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) initiated development of a numerical groundwater flow model in late 2015.

The Willcox Basin covers an area of approximately 1,911 square miles in southeastern Arizona and is essentially a closed basin.

That modelling has been completed. Major findings of the modelling include:

• The three-year ADWR modelling project finds high rates of groundwater pumping in Willcox Basin altering the groundwater flow system “to a significant extent.”

• Evidence of the amount of groundwater removed from storage between 1940 and 2015 ranged from 4.9 million to 6.2 million acre-feet (an acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons of water, or the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land a foot deep).

• Projecting forward to simulate a period of time between 1940 and 2115, the modelling concluded a net “change in storage” – meaning, in this case, a reduction in storage – ranging from 19.8 million acre-feet to 24 million acre-feet.

• Going forward to 2115, the modelling simulated long-term “draw down” in various portions of the aquifer range from a minimum of 354 feet (in the aquifer system north of the Willcox Playa) to as much as 917 feet (in the aquifer system near Kansas Settlement).

• Both data and modelling indicate that significant declines in regional groundwater levels continue to occur.

• Based on the Willcox Model results, pre-development estimates of groundwater in storage circa 1940 ranged from 80 to 97 million acre-feet. Recent estimates of groundwater in storage (2015) range from 73 to 92 million acre-feet. Projection estimates of remaining groundwater in storage range from 57 to 77 million acre-feet. However it must be noted that a significant portion of the remaining groundwater in storage is found at considerable depth and may not practical to remove.

The Groundwater Flow Model of the Willcox Basin may be found here

An Executive Summary of the results of the Flow Model may be found here

For more information regarding this matter, please contact Sally Stewart Lee, Public Information Officer at sslee@azwater.gov  or (602) 771-8530.

Arizona Water Protection Fund Accepting Applications for Fiscal Year 2019 Grant Cycle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                    

CONTACT: Sally Stewart Lee (602) 771-8530  sslee@azwater.gov 

water protection fund logo

PHOENIX- The Arizona Water Protection Fund (AWPF) supports projects that develop or implement on the ground measures that directly maintain, enhance and restore Arizona’s river and riparian resources.

The AWPF Commission is now accepting applications for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 AWPF grant cycle. The deadline to submit applications is September 7, 2018 at 3:00pm.  The AWPF Commission awards grants under three categories: capital projects, research and water conservation.  The grant cycle schedule, grant application manual, and electronic forms are available on the AWPF website at: www.azwpf.gov .

AWPF staff will be hosting one grant application workshop*:

Location Date Time Address
Phoenix, AZ  

August 10, 2018


1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Arizona Dept. of Water Resources

1110 W. Washington St. Suite 310

Phoenix, AZ  85007

Middle Verde Conference Room. 4th Floor

*Staff will also be hosting a live online webinar of the grant application workshop for those not able to attend in person.  Please contact the Arizona Water Protection Fund (602-771-8528) for more information prior to August 10, 2018.

The AWPF promotes the use of incentives emphasizing local implementation rather than regulation to address resource concerns.  As such, the AWPF Commission’s philosophy has been to utilize a grassroots approach to improving river and riparian resources statewide.

The Arizona Legislature established the AWPF in 1994 (A.R.S. § 45-2101, et seq.).  The Arizona Department of Water Resources provides administrative, technical, and legal support to the AWPF Commission.  The legislation establishing the AWPF provides that it is the declared policy of the Legislature to provide for a coordinated effort between state funding and locally led solutions for the restoration and conservation of the water resources of the state.  A.R.S. § 45-2101(A). The primary purpose of the AWPF is to provide monies through a competitive public grant process for implementation of measures to protect water of sufficient quality and quantity to maintain, enhance, and restore rivers and streams and associated riparian resources consistent with existing water law and water rights, and measures to increase water availability.   A.R.S. § 45-2101(B).

For additional information, please contact Reuben Teran at rteran@azwater.gov.

Planning for July 10 Drought Contingency Plan public briefing underway

Lake Mead bathtub ring Mark Henle Arizona Republic

Lake Mead and the infamous “bathtub ring” photo courtesy Mark Henle/Arizona Republic

The next step toward bringing a Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona to closure is scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, at the Heard Museum in central Phoenix.

Co-hosted once again by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the public meeting is set for 1-4 pm at the museum auditorium, located at 2301 N. Central Ave.

The first step in this process – which is expected to open the door for legislative authorization for the ADWR Director to sign the system-wide DCP – began with a three-hour briefing on June 28.

The briefing, as well as the renewed commitment to drought-contingency planning in Arizona, is spurred by the serious conditions facing the Colorado River system, especially the Lower Basin region and Lake Mead.

The risks of Lake Mead falling below critically low reservoir elevations have tripled in the past decade, increasing the risks of potentially draconian reductions to Arizona’s Colorado River supply.  The tools provided in existing guidelines created by agreements among the Colorado River states now are insufficient to address the current risks to the system.

Information about that June 28 briefing, including a video recording of the entire proceeding, is available here.

Also available at ADWR’s Drought Contingency Planning website is a background packet about the briefing, as well as the complete package of slide presentations by ADWR Director Buschatzke, Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke and Terry Fulp, the Lower Colorado Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

A major focus of the July 10 briefing will include answering inquiries from the public about the DCP.

ADWR and CAWCD staff fielded dozens of questions during the June 28 briefing, including questions from audience members and from online viewers. The event on July 10 – which will include technical staff from both organizations on hand – will devote more time for responding to questions from the public.

The June 28 briefing closed with the announcement that an “Arizona Steering Committee” will be formed to discuss and recommend how to adopt and implement the Drought Contingency Plan in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River system in a way that is acceptable to Arizona water users.

While the delegates to the Steering Committee will be by invitation jointly provided by ADWR and CAWCD, the meetings and discussions will be open, and the public is invited to participate. The Steering Committee is tentatively scheduled to conduct its first public meeting on July 26th.

Additional details can be found at https://new.azwater.gov/lbdcp  and www.cap-az.com/AZDCP .

The July 10 Meeting

What: A further discussion, including more public inquiries, on the Arizona Discussion on a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan

When: July 10, 1-4 p.m.

Where: The Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix 85004

Who: The Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

ADWR’s Drought Contingency Planning website now live

A web page dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the effort to complete a Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona is now live.

The web page includes the complete agenda from the June 28 briefing co-sponsored by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, which included presentations by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado Regional Director.

In addition, the web page includes the PowerPoint presentations by ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke and BOR’s Fulp.

Also, the web pages include links to statements on the joint commitment to completing an Arizona DCP co-authored by Director Buschatzke and General Manager Cooke. As they are completed, the page will provide a calendar of upcoming DCP planning meetings, including the scheduled July 10 meeting.

Video of the June 28 briefing at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe will be posted when it becomes available.

The ADWR “Arizona Discussions on Drought Contingency Planning” web page can be found here.