Arizona Governor’s chief of staff makes surprise appearance at Colorado River water conference

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Ducey administration chief of staff Kirk Adams at a dinner on Wednesday hosted by Salt River Project. From Left: Hunter Moore, the Natural Resources Policy Adviser to Governor Ducey; Peter Hayes, associate SRP GM and chief public affairs executive; Mark Bonsall, general manager and CEO of SRP; Adams; David Rousseau, SRP President; Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke

Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams attended the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings this week in Las Vegas.

Adams told the attendees with whom he met that Governor Ducey is committed to prioritizing a plan that will provide Arizona with a sustainable water future.

“We’re moving full-steam ahead with a broad coalition of stakeholders,” Adams said.

Adams addressed a theme that has become a central focus of the annual three-day CRWUA this year: pushing the long-debated Drought Contingency Plan agreement among Colorado River water users across the finish line.

At a keynote panel discussion involving top water executives organized the next day, all five panelists — including Arizona Water Resources Department Director Tom Buschatzke — emphasized the urgency of completing the multi-state agreement to protect Lake Mead.

“Not to be overly dramatic, but I believe that DCP is fundamental to the survival of how we do business,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Arizona Water Resources Director Buschatzke returned to the DCP theme during nearly all of his speaking engagements at the conference.

“I’ve said it before, we need all hands on deck” to complete Lake Mead-saving water agreements, including both those hands inside Arizona and outside the state.

Chief of Staff Adams met on Wednesday with members.

“I’m gratified we could arrange this,” he said. “Water security is vital to Arizona’s future and it was important, I think, to assure the Colorado River community that Governor Ducey is committed to doing what we need to do to make it all happen.”

Kirk Adams and Mark Bonsal

SRP’s Mark Bonsall with Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams at an event sponsored by SRP at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

ADWR Director to U.S. Senate: Tribal water settlement is a “strategic priority” for AZ

ADWR Director at Senate Indian Affairs

 Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Wednesday told a panel of U.S. senators that an agreement to settle a tribal water-rights claim in northwestern Arizona constitutes a rare resolution that creates positive outcomes for all involved.

In both written and oral testimony, Buschatzke expressed Arizona’s strong support of S. 1770 – the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain – to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

In his opening statement, Buschatzke called the agreement “a great step forward.”

He told the panel that the State of Arizona is strongly supportive of S. 1770, which formalizes an agreement reached in 2016 between the Tribe, the State of Arizona and several other major Arizona water users.

The United States participated in the negotiations through a team appointed by the Secretary of the Interior.

The agreement provides 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to the Hualapai Tribe. As sponsor, Sen. Flake welcomed Director Buschatzke to the hearing.

In written testimony, Buschatzke told the senators that it represents a major step forward in providing water-certainty to all water users throughout Arizona.

“Half of the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona still have unresolved water rights claims,” wrote Buschatzke.

“Resolving these claims through settlement is a strategic priority for the State, not only because it will avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigating the claims, but it will provide certainty to all water users in the state regarding available water supplies in the most expeditious manner possible,” he said.

The United States also will benefit from the reduced risk of costs associated with litigating the Tribe’s water-rights claims, Buschatzke noted.

Director Buschatzke observed that the agreement constitutes an economic opportunity for the Tribe, whose lands enjoy “breathtaking views of the west rim of the Grand Canyon.”

The Tribe operates the famous “Skywalk” tourist attraction at the western edge of the canyon, which attracts an estimated one million visitors annually. The Tribe has announced plans to expand that attraction.

By providing the Tribe with a renewable source of water from the Colorado River, the agreement is consistent with State policy of conserving groundwater supplies for times of drought, the Director wrote.

“Because the aquifer beneath the Tribe’s reservation extends to areas off the reservation, the Tribe’s use of a renewable water supply will help preserve groundwater supplies not just for the Tribe, but for non-tribal water users in the region,” said Buschatzke.

In his written testimony, the Water Resources Director broke down the financial responsibilities that each of the parties agreed to shoulder in 2016.

Those investments included a congressional appropriation of $134.5 million to build a pipeline to deliver the Colorado River water to Peach Springs and to the Tribe’s Grand Canyon West development. In addition, S. 1770 would authorize annual operation, maintenance and replacement costs of $32 million, as well as other federal expenditures.

Under questioning from Sen. Flake during the hearing, Buschatzke assured the committee that the infrastructure and water would “go exclusively to the Hualapai.”

Non-federal contributions to the agreement “are significant,” said Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona agreed to “firm” 557.5 acre-feet of the 4,000 acre-foot annual allocation to the Tribe, at a cost of $3.2 million to Arizona.

“The financial benefits that the United States will receive through the settlement will greatly exceed the costs that the United States will incur in constructing a pipeline to bring water from the Colorado River to the Tribe’s reservation,” Buschatzke wrote to the Senate panel.

PRESS RELEASE: Historic water-conservation pact a “down payment” on Arizona’s effort to protect water levels at Lake Mead

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              CONTACT: Doug MacEachern      

July 13,2017                                                                                                        PHONE: 602.510.0104

 Five partners in plan to store conserved tribal Colorado River water in the great reservoir to ink deal at Friday morning signing ceremony

What: Formal consummation of a five-party agreement for the Gila River Indian Community to conserve a portion of its Colorado River entitlement for the benefit of Lake Mead.

Who: The Gila River Indian Community; the United States of America, through the Bureau of Reclamation; the State of Arizona, through the Department of Water Resources; the City of Phoenix; and, the Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

Where: Arizona Department of Water Resources; 1110 W. Washington St., Third Floor; Hearing Room 3175; Phoenix

When: Friday, July 14; 11 a.m.

The five participants in a historic effort to help stabilize Lake Mead water levels will make their agreement formal at a signing ceremony hosted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

As part of the $6 million partnership agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation, Inc., The Gila River Indian Community will forego delivery of 40,000 acre-feet of its 2017 Colorado River allocation.

The tribe will leave that water in Lake Mead. It will be saved in the Colorado River system rather than be tied to any defined use.

“Today’s agreement and the Community’s ongoing effort to protect the Colorado River carry immense importance for our people and our neighbors across the Southwest. Being good stewards of this most sacred resource is a part of who we are as a people and what the Gila River Indian Community has stood for across time,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

“The first positive is that this agreement allows the Community to generate income today from water we otherwise would have stored off-reservation to create long-term credits for future marketing. This revenue will help our economy right now, in the present, without sacrificing our future or our water.

“Second, this agreement helps conserve water in Lake Mead. That conservation effort benefits our people and every resident of Arizona by helping to protect the Colorado River and our water future.”

Added Governor Lewis: “Given the central role of water in our economy and our culture, today’s agreement is truly a cause for celebration.”

The five partners effectively view the agreement as a “down payment” on an Arizona-based plan for protecting the great Colorado River-system reservoir, where water levels have been dropping rapidly in recent years as a result of long-running drought and over-allocation.

The Arizona plan – known as the “Drought Contingency Plan Plus” – represents an effort on the part of leaders in the Arizona water community to keep Lake Mead above the first shortage trigger for as long as possible.

“This partnership lays the groundwork for a compensated system-conservation program in the state of Arizona for the benefit of all Colorado River water users,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona contributed $2 million to the conservation effort – part of a three-year financial commitment totaling $6 million approved this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The City of Phoenix, whose mayor and council approved this agreement on June 13, provided $2 million.

“Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.

Added Mayor Stanton: “This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead.”

The Walton Family Foundation, which believes conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time, contributed $1 million.

“Today’s agreement is about coming together to forge solutions for a sustainable Colorado River that benefit people and the environment,” said Barry Gold, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation also contributed $1 million to this Lake Mead stabilization effort. On January 17 of this year, Reclamation provided $6 million to the Gila River Community for system conservation that resulted in the Community’s first 40,000 acre-feet stored in Lake Mead.

“We are pleased to continue to help our partners in Arizona in their efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead and to implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada,” said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado Regional Director.

An acre-foot is generally considered enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.

For further information, contact Michelle Moreno, Water Resources Public Information Officer, at mamoreno@azwater.gov or Doug MacEachern, Water Resources Communications Administrator at dmaceachern@azwater.gov

 

Arizona drought status summary, May 2017

AZ drought image June 2017

Short-term Drought Status Summary for May 2017

While several storm systems passed through the state in May, the precipitation fell primarily across central and northern Arizona, leaving southern Arizona relatively dry.

The dry spring that followed the dry winter in southeastern Arizona led to deterioration in drought conditions in this area. Pima, Cochise, Santa Cruz, southern Maricopa, Pinal, Graham and Greenlee counties are now all in moderate drought (D1).

Until the monsoon activity begins, conditions are not likely to improve, and fire danger continues to be high in central and southern Arizona.

Long-term Drought Status Update: January – March 2017

The winter storms in January and February combined with the earlier storms in November and December brought significant rain and snow to northern and central Arizona.

The relatively heavy winter precipitation has finally improved many watersheds that were bordering an improvement over the past six months or longer.

Long-term drought and water supply conditions in northern Arizona and the Salt River watersheds are much better than they were over the past six to ten years. However, this winter was still not as wet as in late 1980s and early 1990s, before this drought began, and abnormally dry conditions still persist in many parts of the state.

Water Resources director exchanges chip shots on water in Arizona on “For Love of the Game” sports radio show

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Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke appeared live Monday with Mike “Uncle Buck” Rafferty on NBC Sports Radio 1060 AM’s “For the Love of the Game” program. Uncle Buck wanted to talk water — specifically, the use of water by golf courses — with the director, who, for some reason, Buck insisted on referring to as “Thomas.”

Clearly a genuine, heartfelt fan of golf and the golf industry, Uncle Buck peppered the director with a lot of well-developed questions about the importance of wise water use and about the history of water management in Arizona. It was a fun interview. And for anyone curious about the extent to which golf courses now go to conserve water, an informative one.

As noted, Uncle Buck came to the 17-minute interview prepared with well-developed questions, especially considering how complicated water as an issue can be. In fact, their interview may represent the first time ever that a sports-radio talk-show host inquired about the complex genesis of groundwater management in Arizona. (Click here to hear the interview)

Groundwater documentary and discussion in downtown Prescott on Wednesday

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Groundwater expert and documentarian Kathleen Ferris, discussing her film on the creation of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act

It is always helpful to have a solid appreciation for the past before making big decisions about the future. Especially when the subject is water.

Prescott and surrounding northern Arizona communities are hard at work right now attempting to accurately analyze their water future. In March, the high country community, along with Salt River Project, agreed to conduct a refined groundwater-flow model for the Big Chino Sub-basin, which Prescott anticipates will be an important future water supply. The plan is to accurately assess the hydrogeologic connection of the Big Chino aquifer with the Upper Verde River.

The analysis is expected to be completed in 2020.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the producers of a much-acclaimed documentary on the history of Arizona’s landmark groundwater-protection act — the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 — have scheduled a viewing of their film in downtown Prescott this week.

Kathleen Ferris, Senior Research Fellow at the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, and her movie-making partner, film producer Michael Schiffer, will host the presentation at the Elks Theater at 117 E. Gurley Street in Prescott on Wednesday evening.

Immediately following the 26-minute viewing, Ferris will host a panel discussion on the present-day issues facing Arizona’s water supply — including a discussion of what steps, if any, the Arizona Legislature ought to take to update the 37-year-old Groundwater Code.

The six-person panel will include Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Joining Buschatzke will be Greg Kornrumph of SRP, Sarah Porter of the Kyl Center, Yavapai County Supervisor Thomas Thurman, town of Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, as well as Schiffer.

Doors open at 6 p.m. More information is available online at https://www.facebook.com/GroundwaterFilmScreeningandDiscussion

 

Panel recommends Arizona drought declaration continue for umpteenth year

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It is, indisputably, the best weather show in Arizona all year.

Nothing against the fine work of Arizona’s TV weather forecasters and meteorologists, but the best two hours of weather analysis, climate analysis, near-term predictions, long-term predictions, precipitation, Colorado River flows and the various impacts of all of it is the report of the Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group.

On Tuesday, the panel of water-weather-climate-watershed experts concluded Arizona remains in a state of drought.

As they have consistently since 1999, the coordinating group’s members voted to make an official recommendation that a letter be sent to the Arizona Governor alerting him to that fact.

The recommendation will serve as the basis for an official drought declaration from Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Our outlook has improved and there have been a lot of proactive efforts to mitigate our (water) risks,” said Wendy Smith-Reeve of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management. Together with Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, Smith-Reeve co-chairs the coordinating group.

“(But) while our short-term outlook is positive, long-term recommends we continue with a drought declaration,” she said. “This is not the time to stop pressing forward.”

Preceding that decision was some of the clearest and most precise weather-climate analysis provided anywhere in the state.

State Climatologist Nancy Selover and Mark O’Malley of the National Weather Service provided a near-term retrospective and near-term prediction, respectively, on the state’s weather.

Arizona State Climatologist Nancy Selover

A thumbnail: weather in the recent past has been a little wetter; weather in the near future, meanwhile, looks at least 50-50 to stay that way.

“Our monsoon picked up a lot of good activity, but for the short-term it still has been a little dry in the southern part of the state,” said Selover, analyzing the 2016 summer storm season.

Regarding the approaching summer monsoon season, O’Malley explained that the intensity of the rainy season will be determined by the “persistence” of a subtropical high-pressure system.

“If the high (pressure system) moves to the north (of Arizona), we get the moisture,” he said.

O’Malley said there is a “50-50” chance that conditions this summer will be ripe for the advent of a so-called “El Nino” weather pattern, which enhances the prospects of moisture in Arizona.

“Same for the (2017-18) winter,” he added.

As for air temperatures this coming summer, stow the sweaters: “It’s very favorable that we’ll be warmer than average,” he said.

Conditions at Lake Mead and on the Colorado River, meanwhile, are moderately improved from last year, continuing the trend of positive effects arising from the strong, early-winter snowstorms in the western Rocky Mountains, said Jeff Inwood of the Department of Water Resources.

Mark O’Malley of the National Weather Service

A warmer, “less wet” spring, however, kept the snowpack from fueling a banner-year runoff into the Colorado River system, said Inwood. Nevertheless, the good (if not quite ‘great’) news is that Lake Mead water levels stand now at about ten feet higher than at this time last year.

Inwood’s report, of course, directly impacts the on-going drama surrounding the chances that Lake Mead may descend to a depth that would trigger a water-delivery shortage declaration for Colorado River water users.

“As a result of the improved hydrologies, we are seeing decreased probabilities of a shortage,” said Inwood.

The report on Colorado River conditions dovetailed with the next presentation, a report on progress toward a drought contingency plan – including both inter- and intra-state agreements – by Water Resources Director Buschatzke.

Buschatzke, too, observed that “we’re in good shape going forward,” but reminded the audience that the chronic structural imbalance in Lake Mead remains. About 1.2 million acre-feet more water is extracted from the reservoir each year than on average flows into it.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke

Buschatzke updated the coordinating group on the progress of drought contingency planning negotiations.

The Water Resources director also reported that the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget recently passed by the Arizona Legislature included $2 million for each of the next three years for funding conservation efforts in Lake Mead.

Charlie Ester of Salt River Project reported that Arizona’s mountains enjoyed a wetter-than-average winter season, too. But not a record-breaker.

By mid-winter, SRP was crossing its fingers for a snowpack that might fill its premier reservoir, Roosevelt Lake. A dry April and snowfall that “didn’t slide” into the White Mountains — the main watershed for Roosevelt Lake – kept the big reservoir at just 76 percent of capacity, he said.

Still, inflow into Roosevelt wasn’t shabby: Prior to the winter snows, Roosevelt had dropped to just 44 percent of capacity. 

Charlie Ester, Salt River Project

The snowpack in Arizona’s Ponderosa pine country, meanwhile, was good enough to make the state’s approaching fire season “manageable,” said Jeff Whitney of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

In the forests, said Whitney, “we’re looking at a ‘normal’ year.”

“It’s not out of the realm of probability that we could have an upper-elevation fire,” he said. “But I see it being manageable.”

The real challenge, he said, would be in lower-elevation grasslands, which feasted on winter rains and now present a serious fire danger. Whitney noted the southern Arizona Sawmill Fire, which consumed 47,000 acres of mostly grasslands, as well as the smaller Mulberry Fire.

Thanks to the prospects of an earlier-than-average monsoon season, he said, “we are guardedly optimistic – with the caveat that we will have an elevated amount of lightning.”

At that, the co-chairs recommended – and the coordinating group unanimously supported – a recommendation of another drought declaration to be sent to the governor.

Real people, affected by real-world water policy, gather to talk about dealing with it

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Western Farm Press, May 7, 2017

The talk about stabilizing Lake Mead and resolving chronic over-allocation of the Colorado River system tends to dwell at the 30,000-foot level.

It’s all about how cutbacks might affect the states. It’s about law and policy. About the consequences of inaction for millions of people and for industries, like agriculture, valued in the billions of dollars.

At some point, though, someone has to think retail. Someone has to contemplate the real-world, on-the-ground impact of what happens at the end of the irrigation canal for the end-user of Colorado River water that may no longer be flowing in quite the volumes that it used to flow.

Unsurprisingly, there are such people contemplating the consequences of the anticipated multi-state “drought contingency plan,” which at some point might result in cuts to Arizona’s allocation by hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of Colorado River water.

About 350 of them – mostly Arizona farmers and ranchers – recently attended the 2017 Irrigated Agriculture Conference, a one-day event in Tucson that this year included 33 speakers analyzing the kind of water-wise management practices that will work best when and/or if a shortfall is declared on the Colorado River system.

Speakers and attendees shared views on water-conservation strategies and water-wise cropping systems. Arnott Duncan of Duncan Family Farms, for example, told attendees how his irrigation system is specifically designed for the organic-vegetable crops he grows.

Speakers weighed the relative importance of balancing lower water-use crops with higher value crops to get the most bang for their farming buck.

The Western Farm Press story on the event can be found here.

A word about Western Farm Press: More than a mere niche publication, WFP has almost 19,000 subscribers and gets annual page-view counts approaching two million. The linked story above is typical of WFP: it reports on and analyzes farming issues from the point of view of the local farmer. It’s not just an “industry” publication. It’s a “how industry issues affect real people” publication.

Drought to continue in Arizona? We’ll find out tomorrow

May 2 2017 drought monitor report

The water-news cycle has drifted east all the way across the continent.

It seems like just yesterday the drought story was all about California. Now, the nation’s eyes have shifted all the way from the Left Coast to the Right Coast as drought worries have ebbed in the Land of Avocadoes, but have intensified in the Land of Grapefruit.

Not to be snowflake-y about it, but what about us and our needs? Arizona has been dealing with this drought phenomenon far longer than California and Florida combined.

The formal process to determine whether Arizona officially will enter its 18th consecutive year of drought is approaching.

The Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group will meet tomorrow, May 9, here at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (1110 W. Washington St., Phoenix, Suite 310, 10 a.m. – 12 noon). And while the details about Arizona’s climactic conditions no doubt will prove fascinating, the ultimate conclusions of the panel don’t look all that much in doubt.

Although dry conditions have ebbed, particularly through the most recent winter months, Arizona continues to see a substantial portion of its territory in drought. The drought portrait has improved considerably since early 2016 — only a tiny portion of southwestern Arizona remains in a “severe drought” condition, which is the second-highest drought category.

The coordinating group will report on drought conditions, Colorado River water-supply conditions and the weather outlook for the upcoming summer and winter seasons.

Parking is limited, so it helps to RSVP by email to ehenenson@azwater.gov. The meeting also will be available via phone and webinar.

To attend the meeting via phone and webinar: Call-in Number: 1-877-820-7831 / Passcode: 886948#

Web Meeting Link: https://stateofarizona.centurylinkccc.com/CenturylinkWeb/Verdes

At the end, the ICG will be asked to make a recommendation to Gov. Doug Ducey about whether or not he should keep the drought declarations currently in place.

Arizona Department of Water Resources will survey wells in parts of Yavapai and Coconino Counties

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                  CONTACT: Doug MacEachern      

March 10, 2017                                                             PHONE: 602.771.8507

Arizona Department of Water Resources will survey wells in parts of Yavapai and Coconino Counties  

Phoenix- March 10, 2017 – Beginning in early March, the Arizona Department of Water Resources will be making an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Prescott Active Management Area and the Verde Basin (see attached map).

Every year the Department’s field services technicians collect water levels in a statewide network of about 1,600 to 1,800 “index” wells that have typically been measured annually over the last several decades.  There are roughly 250 groundwater index wells measured annually or semi-annually in the Prescott AMA/Verde Basin region.

During the remainder of the 2017 field season Water Resources staff will measure several hundred wells in the Prescott AMA/Verde River basin area in addition to those 250 index wells.

This 2017 survey of area wells – or basin “sweep,” as it is known — will be the first such basin survey of the area since 2009. The data collected will be analyzed and used to obtain a comprehensive overview of the groundwater conditions and used to support scientific and water management planning efforts.

Frequently Asked Questions about basin surveys:

What will the ADWR do with the data?

The department uses the information from the basin survey to develop water level maps to support scientific, planning and management studies of the basin’s aquifer system.

The department produces invaluable “Hydrologic Map Series” reports, and “Water Level Change” reports which show groundwater conditions statewide.

What if well owners don’t want the ADWR measuring their well depth?

Participation and cooperation with the department’s basin survey is entirely voluntary.

The data collected from basin surveys has proved valuable to property owners and lessees just as much as it is to state and municipal water planners.

Why here? And why now?

Historically, the department measures its index wells in the Prescott/Chino Valley/Verde Basin area in the late winter/early spring. During this time, the water levels in the aquifer have typically recovered from the previous summer “pumping” levels and represent a more “static” condition which gives a more representative picture of what’s happening with the aquifers in the area.

Do well owners and lessees get to review the data?

Arizona Department of Water Resources data are all public records. Data collected should be available by early to mid-summer. As maps are completed, the data will be available via the department’s website at azwater.gov. The department’s Groundwater Site Inventory (GWSI) well database is available at: https://gisweb.azwater.gov/waterresourcedata/GWSI.aspx

For more information regarding this matter, please contact Doug MacEachern, Communications Administrator, at dmaceachern@azwater.gov or (602) 771-8507.

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