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Western Plateau Planning Area Water Resource Issues - Studies, Planning and Conservation

Water resource issues in the Western Plateau Planning Area have been identified in water resource studies, by community watershed groups, through surveys, and from other sources.  Studies, planning, conservation activities, watershed groups and results from water provider surveys are discussed in this section.

The Colorado River is a significant political, social and planning barrier, as well as a physical barrier, and the area south of the River has different water resource concerns compared to areas north of the river.  North of the River, the Arizona Strip is sparsely populated with few population centers.  Colorado City, the largest community, has not identified any significant water resource issues.  The Virgin River Basin is somewhat physically isolated from the rest of the Arizona Strip, and while experiencing rapid population growth, contains no incorporated communities. As a result, most of the water resource planning activities have occurred south of the Colorado River in the Coconino Plateau Basin.

Studies, Planning and Conservation

A number of water resource studies have been conducted in the planning area south of the Colorado River.  Studies have been conducted in response to environmental concerns, growth and limited water supplies. A primary objective has been to better understand the water supply, water demand and hydrology of the area in order to develop a regional approach to water resource planning.  A major effort has been the North Central Arizona Water Supply Study, which was completed in 2006 and involved the cooperation of the Bureau of Reclamation, Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, Havasupai Tribe, the Grand Canyon Trust, City of Williams, the City of Flagstaff, the City of Page, Coconino County, the Department of Water Resources, the USGS and USFWS.  The next step for this group is to secure funding to conduct a feasibility study to evaluate water supply alternatives.  Other notable studies provide detailed information on cultural water supplies and demand in the Coconino Plateau Basin.  These include: North Central Arizona Water Demand Study, (Pinkham and Davis, 2002), Grand Canyon National Park Water Supply Appraisal Study (USBOR, 2002) and the EIS for Tusayan Growth (USDA, 1999).

Deer Creek Falls

Deer Creek Falls, Grand Canyon. The Colorado River is a significant political, social and planning barrier, as well as a physical barrier, and the area south of the River has different water resource concerns compared to areas north of the river. 

On the Arizona Strip, an EIS for the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments and for other BLM lands (BLM, 2007) provides a comprehensive study of much of the area north of the Colorado River.  While the focus of the EIS is on land management to preserve the objectives of the monuments and other areas, water resources and demands are included as a component of the cooperative management of the area.

The National Park Service has conducted numerous studies and management activities in Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The water resources of the Park have been of particular concern given development on the South Rim and nearby areas and the potential impact of associated water development activities on seeps and springs in the Grand Canyon.  Development and implementation of new management strategies through the Adaptive Management Program will affect the environmental conditions downstream of Glen Canyon Dam throughout much of the planning area.  (USBOR, 2007a) There is significant interplay between resource development and environmental needs in the planning area given the amount of federally protected lands as parks, monuments, recreation areas and wilderness areas.

Main Street Williams

Main Street Williams.  The City of Williams and Tusayan’s well drilling programs are excellent examples of local efforts to improve supply reliability and better utilize available resources.

Because of relatively scarce water supplies, communities have made extraordinary efforts to develop new water supplies and reuse existing resources such as effluent and graywater.  As mentioned previously, Grand Canyon Village and the community of Tusayan have taken extreme measures to conserve existing resources and reuse effluent for multiple purposes, including widespread use of effluent for toilet flushing. The rainwater harvesting system at the Tusayan airport is unprecedented in Arizona.  The City of Williams and Tusayan’s well drilling programs are excellent examples of local efforts to improve supply reliability and better utilize available resources. The City of Williams water conservation program includes incentives to retrofit old plumbing fixtures and install drought tolerant landscaping and several other water systems in the planning area provide water conservation information to customers.

As mentioned in Section 6.0.5, by January 2008, all large (>1,850 customers) community water systems were required to submit System Water Plans.  Small systems were required to submit plans by January 2008. The plans are intended to reduce community water systems’ vulnerability to drought, and to promote water resource planning to ensure that water providers are prepared to respond to water shortage conditions.  Within the planning area plans have been submitted by 18 systems including the City of Williams, Colorado City, Town of Fredonia, Grand Canyon National Park, HydroResources-Tusayan and Beaver Dam Water Company.

As part of implementation of the State Drought Plan, Local Drought Impact Groups (LDIGs) are being formed, as necessary, at the county level and a Mohave County group has been established. LDIGs are voluntary groups that will coordinate drought public awareness, provide impact assessment information to local and state leaders, and implement and initiate local drought mitigation and response actions. These groups are coordinated by local representatives of Arizona Cooperative Extension and County Emergency Management and supported by ADWR’s Statewide Drought program. Information on LDIGs may be found at the Department’s website.

The Mohave County Comprehensive Plan water resources element includes development of a water budget for each of the groundwater basins in the county and will prioritize this effort based on growth potential, water availability, number of wells and other factors (Freilich, Leitner & Carlisle, 2005). However, the County’s key water issues and planning efforts are focused on the part of the County south of the Colorado River. The Coconino Comprehensive Plan emphasizes conservation in tandem with resource development and recognizes the importance of incorporating climatic variability into water resource planning (Coconino County, 2003).  In addition, Coconino County has adopted individual Area Plans including three in the planning area: Tusayan, Valle and Red Lake (located north of Williams) which include a discussion of water and wastewater infrastructure. However, these area plans all date from the 1990s.

An application from Wind River Resources L.L.C. to transport groundwater from the Virgin River Basin to Mesquite Nevada in 2005 was recently an important issue for the area. The application proposed to transport water from Beaver Dam Wash pursuant to A.R.S. § 45-291 et seq.  The statute allows for transportation of groundwater out of state, conditional on several criteria.  The proposal included construction of three wells in the Mormon Wells area along Beaver Dam Wash. The proposal was to initially withdraw 800 AFA and up to 14,000 AFA by 2045, and transport it to the Virgin Valley Water District in Mesquite. The Director of the Department denied the application in November 2007.

Another issue involving the Virgin River is related to Colorado River shortage sharing as discussed previously in Section 6.0-6. The Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lakes Powell and Mead (Guidelines), provide for the conservation of Colorado River water by creating the Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) program. The ICS program provides flexibility in the delivery of Colorado River water by allowing Colorado River contractors to add water to the system through conservation, system efficiency improvements, or importation to be released in the future by the Secretary of Interior to the State (Arizona, California or Nevada) that added the water (ADWR, 2009).

Virgin River

Virgin River through the Virgin River Gorge. 

One of the categories of ICS is Tributary Conservation ICS.  This category allows a water user to fallow water rights in tributaries of the Colorado River that were in use prior to the effective date of the Boulder Canyon Project Act (BCPA) (1929) and transport this water to the Colorado River for credit.  This allows an entity to develop some water resources that were formerly identified as “in-state water” by conveying them to the Colorado River for current or future use (SNWA, 2008).

Regarding the Virgin River, an agreement to the Guidelines, the “Southern Nevada Water Authority Virgin and Muddy Rivers Tributary Conservation, Intentional Created Surplus (ICS) Project”, allows the Southern Nevada Water Authority to temporarily forego development of Virgin River water rights received after the BCPA was enacted while it pursues long-term Colorado River augmentation. Under the agreement, irrigation rights granted to Nevada prior to the BCPA will be used.  SNWA, which has purchased many of these rights, will fallow the land and let the amount not consumed flow into Lake Mead through the Virgin River or its tributaries where the water will be withdrawn directly from the lake, without building a new pipeline (SNWA, 2008).  Five percent of the water conserved under the Tributary Conservation ICS program is left in Lake Mead to increase the water supplies for the system. Flow in the Virgin River will not be impacted through Arizona under the SNWA agreement (Gelt, 2004).


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