Water issues in Mohave County discussed at board of supervisors meeting

Dec 30, 2021

Water issues in Mohave County discussed at board of supervisors meeting

Mohave Valley Daily News

By Fred Mayson

Various water issues were brought to the Mohave County Board of Supervisors’ attention during the water update from HighGround Inc. at the board’s regular meeting on Dec. 20.

Protecting groundwater

Conserving groundwater in the Hualapai Valley Basin is a major concern for the county.

The basin is an alluvial aquifer that stretches for 1,820 square miles between the Hualapai Mountains just south of the City of Kingman to Lake Mead.

The basin is fed almost exclusively by monsoon rains and serves as the main supply source for water in Kingman.

One recent study from 2019 by Matrix New World Engineering predicts an increase in agricultural water uses — such as farming alfalfa — and indicates there may be as little as 58 years of water left in the basin.

Another model by United State Geological Survey indicates there is at least 100 years of water left in the basin.

Both estimates are a sharp decrease from the 200 years the water basin had in 2010.

The board has sent two letters to urge the Arizona Department of Water Resources to declare the Hualapai Valley Water Basin an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area. Both have been rejected.

“The current statute only allows the DWR to declare an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area when there’s not a reasonable amount of water for ongoing irrigation,” said Patrick Cunningham, HighGround general emeritus. “That means you have to pump the aquifer virtually dry before you can get an INA.”

Cunningham said two bills likely will be reintroduced to the legislature, which could help address groundwater conservation: a Rural Area Management bill and a bill to change the Irrigation Non-Expansion Area statute.

The proposed change to the Irrigation Non-Expansion Area statute would allow the DWR to prospectively declare INAs before water supplies are exhausted.

Meanwhile the Rural Management Area bill, if passed, would allow the Board of Supervisors to designate a basin or subbasin as a rural management area with specific management goals.

Colorado River transfers

Concerns about transfers from the Colorado River were also raised and addressed at the board meeting, particularly regarding a proposed Greenstone agreement between Cibola in La Paz County to transfer 2,083.01 acre-feet of water to Queen Creek in central Arizona.

Originally, only a transfer of about 1,000 acre-feet was approved by the DWR. However, another 1,000 was added to the agreement, leaving only 50 acre-feet on the river.

“It does not seem that in the middle of a long-term drought as bad as it was 1,500 years ago, where we faced 22 years in a row of really bad hydrology on our river, it does not seem that now is the time to transfer water to Central Arizona and away from the river,” Cunningham said.

The county believes an Environmental Impact Statement should be drafted about the effect the transfer would have on the river communities before the proposal is approved.

River communities are encouraged to create water budgets or water plans to determine what allotment each district needs for continued development and growth.

However, some movement has been made to protect the river from unnecessary transfers: for example, $200 million in the state budget for water projects cannot be used for transferring water away from the Colorado River.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes, which is composed of the Mohave, Chemehuevi, Hopi and Navajo tribes, also continues to obtain federal authorization to transfer water to non-reservation users.

A bill drafted by CRIT and introduced by Arizona Sens. Mark Kelley and Kyrsten Sinema on Dec. 2 would allow the tribes to lease water to Arizona communities, such as Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City, and Kingman.

Overall health of Lake Mead

No discussion about water rights in Colorado River can go without mentioning the declaration of a Tier I water shortage, declared by the Department of the Interior in August.

The declaration reduces the amount of water that Arizona, Nevada and Mexico can claim from the river. Arizona will see a reduction of 520,000 acre-feet of water due to the shortage.

The shortage is currently predicted to last at least four years.

“The hydrology does not look good,” Cunningham said. “We have to prepare for that.”

Relevant to Mohave County is the renegotiations of the Colorado River Operations Guidelines, which are set to expire in 2026.

The guidelines determine how the river is operated and the amount of water rights allotted to the seven participating states of the Colorado River compact, tribes along the river, and Mexico.

River water users under the 2007 guidelines were held harmless in a Tier I shortage and thus are currently unaffected by the required 512,000 acre-feet of water reduction for Arizona.

The new guidelines will determine where Arizona stands as a Colorado River water user for possibly the next 20 years.

“I don’t know if we can make that happen in the 2027 Guidelines. Everything will be on the table,” Cunningham said.

However, Cunningham stated Mohave County is well represented by having a seat at the current negotiations.

Most of the required water reductions will be through the recently announced 500 Plus Plan by DWR and the Central Arizona Project. Under the program, 500,000 acre-feet of water normally used by CAP will be stored in Lake Mead.

The reduction will be accomplished through a two-year plan with a combination of creating new surpluses of water in Lake Mead, leaving water scheduled to be withdrawn in Lake Mead, voluntary and compensated reductions, and improving system efficiencies to minimize water waste.