Experts say aquifers running dry

Sun Staff Reporter
Sunday, August 13, 2006 12:35 PM CDT

Communities from Williams and Tusayan to Flagstaff and Tuba City are going to be using more water than they can sustainably draw from the ground by 2050, the Bureau of Reclamation has found in one of the most comprehensive studies to date.

Wells tapping the Navajo Aquifer around Dilkon at Lower Greasewood could be going dry as soon as 2010, the study found, with many more to follow in the next two decades.

Pipelines tapping the Colorado River at a starting cost of $300 million have been proposed as the most likely way to bring new water to Flagstaff, Williams and the western edge of the Navajo Nation, replacing some of the more unreliable water supplies.

Though hydrologists factored population growth, conservation and many fluctuating demographics into this study, one thing became apparent no matter how the numbers varied: In two or three generations, existing water supplies won't keep up with expected demand.

And the water table around the Coconino Plateau watershed will start to sink as a result.

"You can change these assumptions, but all that changes is the point at which the aquifer is depleted," said Kevin Black, presenting the study for the Bureau of Reclamation.

Central northern Arizona's population is expected to almost double, growing from 96,125 in 2000 to 184,650 in 2050, according the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

Doney Park, Parks, Tusayan and Tuba City will be among the faster-growing urban areas, DES projected.

Tuba City's population is expected to triple between 2000 and 2050, to 29,500.

"If we're going to grow the way we're projected to grow in this state, we're going to have to bring in water from somewhere regardless of conservation measures already in place," Flagstaff utilities director Ron Doba said.
Even after the purchase of a new water supply source east of Flagstaff last year at Red Gap Ranch, Flagstaff will be pumping more water from the Coconino Aquifer than the aquifer can support by 2050, Doba wrote in reports to the Bureau.

Both the Navajo and Hopi governments have said they project per capita water use to increase as water pipelines make it to more homes and fewer families have to haul water.

A group of the concerned tribes, Coconino County, environmental and federal officials have been meeting for years on what's called the Coconino Plateau Water Advisory Council to address the water issue and try to find a common solution.

The firm understanding that there won't always be enough groundwater to go around is a departure from past thinking.

The public will soon be invited to learn more about the region's water future and offer suggestions, said Coconino County Supervisor Deb Hill, who leads a public outreach committee.

"This is a huge change in direction for this region and I would hope that all the citizens will get involved and stay involved as we see where this is going to go," she said.

Pipelines from the Grand Canyon along Highway 89 communities to Flagstaff and Williams have been proposed, at a per capita cost that would make this water among the most expensive in the nation.

A $410 million pipeline from Lake Mead to Williams and Flagstaff, the most expensive proposal, has also been considered.

The Bureau of Reclamation won't take the next step, which would involve asking Congress to permit further studies on some of these pricey pipeline projects, Black said.

Doing that, he said, is up to the water advisory group.


originally found at the Arizona Daily Sun


Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.