New ADWR “Story Map” Uses High-Tech Imagery To Tell Story Of Willcox Area Land Subsidence

ADWR Story Map image

Since the dawn of modern science – since Copernicus struggled to bring around 16th century skeptics to his evidence of a heliocentric solar system – illustrating complex science to a general audience has proved challenging.

A century or so after Copernicus, Galileo and his famous telescope would (eventually, at least) help illustrate the Polish astronomer’s claim that the earth revolved around the sun, as opposed to the other way around.

Proving, in other words, that images matter. Text is good. Text and way-cool images? Even better.

Following in Galileo’s footsteps, researchers in the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Hydrology Division have developed one of the department’s most visually appealing presentations ever:

A “story map” depicting land subsidence in the Willcox Groundwater Basin, where ADWR recently completed work on a comprehensive groundwater-flow model.

Focusing on the prevalence of land subsidence in the Willcox Basin, the story map uses interactive imagery as a compliment to textual descriptions of the area’s subsidence issues. Together, they paint (quite literally) a clear picture of the dramatic subsidence issues facing the region.

Produced for ADWR by GIS Application Developer Karen Fisher and Brian Conway, supervisor of the Geophysics/Surveying Unit, the “story map” brings together into a single, user-friendly package a wide assortment of the tools that hydrologists employ to analyze groundwater conditions.

“This story map is the first of hopefully other story maps that combine (geographic information system, or “GIS”) maps, data analysis, images/multimedia content, and a summary of various Water Resources topics in an easy to read format to tell a story,” said Conway.

Fisher said they selected the Willcox Basin as the subject of the story map due to the area “having the highest annual magnitude of land subsidence in Arizona,” as well as “a number of active earth fissures.”

Fisher designed the story map using ArcGIS mapping and analytics software, a product of Esri, a global market leader in GIS.

“Esri has story-map templates that they have been encouraging their users to use,” said Fisher.

“Brian and I both thought of the idea and wanted to highlight land subsidence in hope that it would inspire other groups at ADWR to put their projects into a story map.”

As described by Esri, story maps “are a simple yet powerful way to inform, engage, and inspire people with any story you want to tell that involves maps, places, locations, or geography.”

The web applications, the firm notes, “let authors combine beautiful maps with narrative text, striking images, and multimedia, including video.”

The narrative text is the other beauty of the ADWR land-subsidence story map.

Its text is general-audience friendly – scientifically precise while, at the same time, expressing the complex land-subsidence issues the map depicts clearly enough for a high-school age, would-be hydrologist to appreciate.

In addition to the direct link found above, the story map is available at the ADWR Hydrology eLibrary, which can be found here:

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.