A tough haul: Water woes of north Valley homeowners slowly lumber toward resolution

5.17.2018 New_River water hauling truck

The long, complex effort by federal, municipal and county officials, as well as a private water company, to provide a permanent source of hauled water to residents of New River and Desert Hills in the north Valley appears to be approaching its conclusion, however slowly.

Plans to build a dedicated water station to provide truck-delivered water to the residences by the end of April hit a bump recently when project officials learned that the road-side property selected as the station location carried a federal open-spaces designation.

Releasing the property from its “National Area of Open Space” designation took several weeks.

As a result, the City of Phoenix has extended its deadline for permitting access to its hydrants once again. For months, Phoenix has provided the area’s water-haulers with temporary permits to access its fire hydrants for potable water.

In a letter dated May 1, Phoenix Vice Mayor Thelda Williams informed the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors that the city would extend the permits through August 31.

(The roughly 500 New River/Desert Hills residences in question are built on county land, outside municipal jurisdictions.)

However, noted the vice-mayor, this latest extension will be the last one:

“The City has no intention of again extending this final deadline,” she wrote.

That deadline should not be an obstacle for providing the homeowners with uninterrupted water service, according to the state director for EPCOR, the private water provider that is building the new water station.

“We are committed to have the station up and running for the water haulers by July 20,” said Troy Day, head of EPCOR operations in Arizona, to the Foothills Focus online newspaper.

The predicament facing the New River and Desert Hills residents began for reasons that had little to do with jurisdictions or government policies.

It had a lot to do, on the other hand, with water availability in an extremely water-light region of central Arizona.

Most of the New River and Desert Hills developments actually are a collection of tiny developments that fall outside the jurisdiction of Arizona’s strict “Active Management Area” statutes, which require that the developers of projects that include six or more lots must assure their homebuyers a supply of water for at least 100 years.

Developments with fewer than six lots, on the other hand, had no such requirement to demonstrate water availability.

That legal quirk helped make new homes in a lovely portion of high-desert foothills more affordable. But it also placed the water supplies of those residences outside the regulatory jurisdiction of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Rather than tap into a municipal supplier’s assured-water system, the New River/Desert Hills homeowners relied on wells. And as the Southwest’s nearly 20-year drought continued, and still more wells were drilled on behalf of still more homeowners, the area’s extremely shallow aquifer became overtaxed.

And wells began going dry.

A recent analysis of the region’s groundwater conditions by ADWR Chief Hydrologist Frank Corkhill tells much of the story.

Depth to bedrock in the New River, Anthem and Desert Hills area is extremely shallow, ranging from zero to 800 feet. That doesn’t leave much room for groundwater to swell up in an aquifer.

Groundwater flow from that aquifer system in the northern reaches of the Valley, meanwhile, is from north to south and southeast. Away from the region, in other words.

There are numerous other issues with the area’s groundwater reliability.

Drought has reduced the region’s already-small amount of natural groundwater recharge, for example. At the same time, increasing groundwater pumping, both from the area’s numerous domestic and municipal wells has grown rapidly. As a result, water-level declines in some areas have ranged between 80 feet and 200 feet since the late 1990s.

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

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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