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Securing Arizona's Water Future

Central Highlands Planning Area Water Supply - Groundwater

Compared to the deep alluvial basins found in the southern part of Arizona, high elevations, steep topography and extensive areas of bedrock in the Central Highlands Planning Area translate into relatively minimal groundwater storage capabilities and high runoff.  These conditions result in limited, drought-sensitive water supplies for some communities, such as Pine, Strawberry, Payson, Black Canyon City and Mayer.  Areas of unconsolidated sediments are relatively limited as shown on the groundwater conditions maps for each basin in sections 5.1-5.5.  Many basin-fill aquifers in the planning area are narrow and surrounded by low water yielding consolidated rocks.  Areas of relatively high water yield include basin-fill deposits in the Big Chino Sub-basin, Verde Valley Sub-basin, north of Globe in the Salt River Lakes Sub-basin and near Wickenburg in the Upper Hassayampa Basin.

Black Canyon City

Black Canyon City, Agua Fria Basin.  Steep topography and extensive areas of bedrock translate into relatively minimal groundwater storage capabilities and high runoff.  These conditions result in limited, drought-sensitive water supplies for some communities.

In much of the northern half of the Agua Fria Basin, parts of the Salt River Basin including the entire eastern portion, and the Verde Canyon Sub-basin, groundwater occurs in volcanic rocks that yield relatively small volumes of water.  These conditions pose groundwater supply challenges for Payson and other communities in the planning area.  In Pine, Strawberry and near Globe, groundwater is found in relatively low yield sedimentary rocks. 

Water availability problems resulted in an ACC-imposed moratorium on the installation of any new meters by Pine Water Company in 2006.  Recently, deep wells in the area have encountered a more productive aquifer than that found in the currently utilized shallow wells.  In July 2009 the Pine/Strawberry Water Improvement District voted to purchase Brooke Utilities, which serves the communities, with the intent to obtain water from deeper, more productive wells. (Payson Roundup, 2009)

Sedimentary rocks with moderate yields are found in the southern half of the Agua Fria Basin, while Precambrian schist near Black Canyon City yields relatively small volumes of water to wells. 

Although groundwater supplies may be limited in some areas, it is the primary water supply in the planning area.  Well pumpage averaged about 52,350 AFA during the period 2001 to 2005.

Automated well

Automated well in the Verde River Basin.  Approximately 200 of the GWSI sites are designated as Automated Wells.

The Department’s Groundwater Site Inventory (GWSI) database, the main repository for statewide groundwater well data, is available on the Department’s website.  The GWSI database contains of over 42,000 records of wells and over 210,000 groundwater level records statewide. GWSI contains spatial and geographical data, owner information, well construction and geologic data and historic groundwater data including water level, water quality, well lift and pumpage records. Included are hydrographs for statewide Index Wells and Automated Groundwater Monitoring Sites (Automated Wells), which can be searched and downloaded to access local information for planning, drought mitigation and other purposes.

Approximately 1,700 wells are designated as Index Wells statewide out of over 43,700 GWSI sites (GWSI sites are primarily wells but include other types of sites such as springs and drains). Typically, Index Wells are visited once each year by the Department’s field staff to obtain a long-term record of groundwater level fluctuations. Approximately 200 of the GWSI sites are designated as Automated Wells. These systems measure water levels four times daily and store the data electronically. Automated wells are established to better understand the water supply situation in areas of the state where data are lacking.  These devices are located based on areas of growth, subsidence, type of land use, proximity to river/stream channels, proximity to water contamination sites or areas affected by drought.

Volume 1 of the Atlas shows the location of Index Wells and Automated Wells as of January 2009.  At that time there were a total of 156 Index Wells and 13 Automated Sites in the Central Highlands Planning Area.  The latter are located in all but the Salt River Basin. Updated maps showing the location of Index and Automated wells may be viewed at the Department’s website.

Information on major aquifers, well yields, estimated natural recharge, estimated water in storage, aquifer flow direction and water level changes are found in groundwater data tables, groundwater conditions maps, hydrographs and well yield maps for each basin in the Water Resource Characteristics sections.

Transportation of groundwater between groundwater basins is prohibited in Arizona unless specifically allowed in statute.  In 1991, the Arizona statutes were amended to allow certain governmental entities to transport groundwater from the Big Chino Sub-basin of the Verde River groundwater basin into the Prescott AMA.  Under A.R.S. 45-555(E), the City of Prescott can withdraw and transport an amount not to exceed 14,000 AFA from the Big Chino Sub-basin into the Prescott AMA.  The actual volume that can be transported during a year depends on several factors listed in the statute.  With respect to the City of Prescott’s 2007 Application for Modification of Designation of Assured Water Supply, the Director of ADWR issued a determination that recognized 8,067.4 acre-feet per year as the volume of groundwater Prescott is legally entitled to transport from the Big Chino Sub-basin under A.R.S. § 45-555(E). This decision and order is currently under appeal with the Office of Administrative Hearings and the Director’s final decision is expected in late 2009.

In addition to the groundwater the City of Prescott is allowed to transport under A.R.S. § 45-555(E), cities and towns in the Prescott AMA are allowed to withdraw groundwater associated with historically irrigated acres (HIA) in the Big Chino Sub-basin and transport the groundwater into the Prescott AMA. (A.R.S. §45-555 (A) through (D))  The Department will make a determination regarding the volume of groundwater that a city or town can transport from HIA lands after it has finalized Administrative Rules for this process.  The allotment associated with HIA is three acre-feet per acre per year.

An important issue facing the Central Highlands Planning Area is the potential for additional groundwater withdrawals from the Big Chino Sub-basin to reduce flows in the headwaters area of the Verde River with possible environmental impacts associated with reduced flows and the construction of pipelines and other infrastructure to transport the groundwater.  Although a number of studies have been conducted to investigate the connection of Big Chino Sub-basin groundwater with the headwaters of the Verde River, the relative contribution of the various potential sources is still a matter of speculation (McGavock, 2003).

Verde River Headwaters

Verde River headwaters .  An important issue facing the Central Highlands Planning area is the potential for additional groundwater withdrawals from the Big Chino Sub-basin to reduce flows in the headwaters area of the Verde River.

 

water dropClick here to continue to Section 5.0.5 Water Supply - Effluent and Contamination Sites

 

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References and Supplemental Reading for the Central Highlands Planning Area Overview

Colorado River Central Highlands Planning Area Download entire Central Highlands Planning Area Atlas in pdf Verde River Lake Pleasant