Regional Water Recharge Project partners seeking Apache Junction site

Utilities serving Queen Creek, Apache Junction and Gold Canyon have formed a regional partnership to find and construct a nearby site to recharge groundwater to obtain long-term storage credits.

The regional water recharge project is in its infancy, with officials meeting three times since the beginning of the year.

Despite remnants of hurricanes Rosa and Sergio causing localized flooding in the region and helping make October the wettest for Phoenix since records were first kept in 1895, local and state officials are concerned for the future.

Officials with Central Arizona Project, which provides much of the water for the region, say a two-decades-long drought is seriously straining the Colorado River system that provides canal water from Lake Mead, according to cap-az.com.

With Lake Mead below 40 percent of capacity, the seven Colorado River states, including Arizona, California and Nevada, are preparing to act should it continue falling toward critical surface levels, according to the website.

If CAP allocations were to slow, groundwater from wells would take up the slack in the east Valley, providing water to faucets in homes and businesses, plants to be irrigated. But to prepare for that, and to ensure there are no dry cells from pumping too much groundwater, a local recharge site is needed.

The Superstition Area Water Plant at 4850 S. Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Employees from the Apache Junction Water Utilities Community Facilities District, which covers about 8 square miles including state land to the south of U.S. Highway 60, and Arizona Water Co., which services Gold Canyon and a portion of Apache Junction, have recently begun to scour maps for a water-recharge location.

“We are looking for a site to put a recharge facility in the Apache Junction area. Between the two of us we are looking at 122 square miles of both our service areas and the city’s planning areas to the south,” Mike Loggins, Apache Junction Water Utilities Community Facilities District engineer, said recently.

Other organizations invited to regional water recharge project meetings are the Town of Queen Creek, Salt River Project, the City of Phoenix, Arizona State Land Department and the Flood Control District of Maricopa County, he said.

The first meeting of the group was April 23. June 5 was the kickoff meeting to start a site-location study and the Sept. 17 meeting was held to discuss a ranking system and data collected for a site-location study, officials said.

Salt River Project has had an advisory role in the meetings, Jeff Lane, SRP spokesman, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

“We were invited to attend some of these meetings to offer SRP’s expertise in underground water storage and to gauge our interest in participating in the proposed Apache Junction recharge project. So far, our participation in this Apache Junction project has only been in an advisory role,” he said.

“SRP has a significant interest in the future growth of eastern Maricopa County and northern Pinal County because we are the electricity provider for that region and will be even more in the future when the Superstition Vistas area is developed and will require a reliable water supply,” Mr. Lane said.

Superstition Vistas is Arizona state land, which, when sold to developers, could have businesses and homes on 275 square miles south to Florence, according to superstition-vistas.org.

“We are proud of our longtime commitment to being good water stewards and we know that during times of drought – just like the one we’ve been effectively managing through since the mid-1990s – that regional water solutions like recent partnerships we’ve made with the cities of Phoenix and Goodyear are critical to the Valley and state’s future,” Mr. Lane said.

Water delivery

Three entities provide water for the communities of Apache Junction. Gold Canyon, Queen Creek and a portion of San Tan Valley. They are:

  • Apache Junction Water Utilities Community Facilities District, generally south of U.S. Highway 60, covering Apache Junction and unincorporated Pinal County land south to the Elliot Road alignment.
  • Arizona Water Co., generally north of U.S. 60 and west of Idaho Road in Apache Junction, unincorporated Pinal County north and east of Apache Junction and all of Gold Canyon.
  • Town of Queen Creek Utility Services Department, including the town and a portion of San Tan Valley in Pinal County as far north as Germann Road and generally south to Hash Knife.

All three put water back into the ground, called recharging or water storage. And all three use groundwater from wells and Central Arizona Project water, the latter delivered by a canal that crosses Ironwood Drive in Apache Junction south of Baseline Road and passes east of Queen Creek’s water utility boundaries at Ocotillo Road.

Colorado River water is carried from Lake Havasu near Parker to the San Xavier Indian Reservation southwest of Tucson in the CAP canal, according to the CAP website at capaz.com.

The canal is designed to bring 1.5 million acre-feet of water every year from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, according to the website.

An acre-foot is the volume of water that would cover 1 acre to a depth of one foot. An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, according to an Arizona Department of Water Resources document at azwater.gov.

Recharging water and storing it is important for the future, such as if Central Arizona Project water were to be reduced or stopped, Mr. Loggins said at the Sept. 18 meeting of the water district board.

“If we have this shortage or at some point there’s not enough water to come down the canal, where do we get this from? So putting this water into the ground for future. It could be two years from now, it could be 100 years from now, what it promises the city is a bright and prosperous future by having this stored for us for those occasions,” Mr. Loggins said.

Apache Junction

The Apache Junction water district has a 3,919 acre-feet per year CAP allocation. The district offices are at Apache Junction City Hall, 300 E. Superstition Blvd. Apache Junction City Council members make up the board of directors.

The district, formed by the city of Apache Junction on Aug. 2, 1994, is responsible for providing water service for approximately 8 square miles, which accounts for more than one-third of the city of Apache Junction.

The water district supplies well water — groundwater — pumped from the Eastern Salt River Sub-Basin Aquifer, which flows southwesterly under Apache Junction and its surrounding areas. The groundwater is treated for arsenic removal where necessary, disinfected with chlorine, pumped into storage tanks and blended with Colorado River water transported through the CAP canal system, according to the district’s website, ajwaterdistrict.org.

A regional recharge facility near Apache Junction could be as big to the region as Roosevelt Dam was for Arizona, Apache Junction City Manager Bryant Powell said at the water district’s Sept. 18 meeting.

“How big is this in terms of the impact? Is this kind of our own … in terms of water planning in Arizona, some of the fruits of labor done 100 years ago — Roosevelt Dam? This type of project that’s done in a regional manner, with great planning may take some time. What impact are we talking about here?” Mr. Powell asked.

“We can store water pretty much anywhere in the Phoenix Active Management Area, so Tonopah, which is the far west side, we can store water. But when we pull water out of here, we can consider those as credits here,” Mr. Loggins said.

“But the big concern is, that’s really not putting water in the ground where we’re pumping it out of. Yeah, they give us credit for it; it’s great for us to store it in those places. But we need it here in Apache Junction,” he said.

“So, trying to create this regional recharge facility and get more people involved in this area to put the water in the ground where we’re actually using that is really the whole process we’re going through so we can store this,” Mr. Loggins said.

The Superstition Service Area of Arizona Water Co. has an allocation of 6,285 acre-feet per year of CAP water and also uses groundwater. It services Apache Junction, Gold Canyon, Queen Valley, east Mesa, Florence Junction and east to Superior. The Apache Junction office is at 2380 W. Southern Ave.

The Town of Queen Creek Utility Services Department, 22358 S. Ellsworth Road, primarily uses groundwater from wells with 495 acre-feet a year from the CAP canal. The town is under review to receive up to 4,100 acre-feet of water from the CAP.

Paul Gardner, Town of Queen Creek utilities director, attended the first meeting of the regional water recharge project on April 23, but no one from the town was able to attend the last two meetings, he said in an e-mailed response to questions.
“The town is always interested in the potential for a new recharge site and supports the regional effort,” Mr. Gardner said.
“The town has an allocation of CAP water that we are looking to recharge and recover. The location of the new recharge site will determine if it will benefit the town or if it is too far away,” he said.

Finding a location

The maps Arizona Water Co. and Apache Junction Water Utilities Community Facilities District officials have been looking at to find a site to recharge water show depth to the groundwater table and other measurements, Mr. Loggins said at the Sept. 18 meeting of the facilities district board.

“So we’re going through that, combining all those maps — depth to groundwater, depth to bedrock … how many wells are in the area,” he said.

“There are about 15 different criteria that they went through and did a bunch of research on to put together maps for us and then we got back together just recently and started ranking those things on what’s most important to us. You know, if you have a thicker layer where you can store water at vs. a thinner layer and where’s the best location where these sites would be,” he said.

“It’s state land vs. private land, several different things, and we’re starting to rank those to see what the best location would be for this site,” Mr. Loggins said.

The site needs to be near Apache Junction or the CAP canal, officials said.

“They’re changing some of the rankings where we are right now and then we’ll be coming back with final reports, going ‘OK, this will be the best location based on all of these criteria that we had put in there, how close it is to the source, how far it is away from the city to get back to the city limits and the city’s water system.’ Several different things that we are looking at,” Mr. Loggins said.

Storing water underground is important to the region, Mr. Lane, SRP spokesman, said.

“Underground water storage is an instrumental component of SRP’s water resource management tool kit and a real-life, working example of how SRP and Arizona have been preparing for drought for more than 100 years,” he said.

SRP provides water and power to more than two million people living in central Arizona, according to srpnet.com.

SRP has two physical underground facilities where it partners with participating Valley cities to store Central Arizona Project water and reclaimed water underground for future use, Mr. Lane said.

“These facilities enable Arizona to maximize the use of its Colorado River entitlement and help the state reach its ‘safe yield’ goal. Safe yield is the equilibrium between the amount of groundwater pumped from an aquifer and the amount recharged into it,” he said.

“Recharge has also contributed to stabilizing groundwater levels in the Valley, with current water levels at near the historical levels observed in the early 1950s,” he said.

SRP’s first storage facility, the Granite Reef Underground Storage Project, was completed in August 1994. Just north of the Salt River near Mesa, more than one million acre-feet of water has been stored in seven recharge basins – the equivalent of more than 14 Saguaro Lakes, he said.

SRP also operates an underground storage facility in the West Valley, the New River Agua Fria Underground Storage Project, he said.

“Also, several cities partner with us in SRP’s groundwater savings facility, where participants deliver CAP water from the Colorado River to SRP in lieu of pumping groundwater,” he said.

Editor Richard Dyer can be reached at rdyer@newszap.com

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