Water is life, but currently, groundwater pumping is unlimited in more than 80 percent of Arizona. A group of water experts met with Coconino County residents recently in Flagstaff to discuss the future of Arizona’s water supply and address concerns about groundwater protection in Coconino County.
“I’ve spent my career studying how groundwater, springs, seeps, and surface water interact. Groundwater is vital to so many aspects of life here in northern Arizona,” said Northern Arizona University Professor Dr. Abe Springer.
Groundwater is the fresh water found underground in cracks, crevices, and between soil, and for some communities, it’s their only source of drinking water.
“In Tusayan, located on the South Rim of Arizona’s most iconic national park, groundwater is our drinking water supply and the source of nearby springs and seeps connected to the Grand Canyon,” said Town of Tusayan Mayor Clarinda Vail. “Without any protections, our groundwater is at risk.”
When groundwater isn’t managed, new wells can be drilled and can pump unlimited amounts groundwater—even if that pumping negatively impacts a neighboring well, a nearby stream, or a community’s water supply.
“As a resident near Happy Jack, Arizona, I am worried about potential new water users coming into the area and pumping from our aquifer,” said Blue Ridge Domestic Water Improvement District Board Vice Chairman Tom Osterday. “My water district has put a lot of time, energy, and money into ensuring robust infrastructure to serve its residents. That could all be taken away if a big pumper decided to come in and set up shop nearby.”
The lack of protection of this vital water resource in Arizona is already leading to the depletion of groundwater in areas like Willcox, Kingman, La Paz County, and other parts of the state.
“As a County Supervisor, I want to see safe and reliable water supplies for ALL of Coconino County. But we are at risk if we continue to allow unlimited groundwater pumping outside of the state’s established Active Management Areas and Irrigation Non-expansion Areas, said Coconino County Supervisor Patrice Horstman, District 1. “That’s why I, along with my fellow County Supervisors from La Paz, Mohave, and Yavapai Counties, have been fighting so hard to expand the toolbox to better manage our groundwater supplies.”
The discussion made one thing clear: groundwater is a critical water supply and Arizona needs to do more to protect it.
“In the City of Flagstaff, we hold ourselves to a high standard and worked hard to receive the 100-year Adequate Water Supply designation from the Arizona Department of Water Resources as a voluntary measure to plan for our long-term community water demands,” said City of Flagstaff Water Resources Manager Erin Young. “While Water Adequacy and the city’s intentional water conservation efforts are excellent management tools, our local stewardship is at risk until other groundwater protections are enacted. With anywhere from 50 to 90% of Flagstaff’s drinking water derived from groundwater, we know we must continue to be good stewards of this precious resource.”