Counties plead for federal help to secure water supply

Peter Aleshire, Payson Roundup

April 30, 2021

Payson Roundup: Counties plead for federal help to secure water supply

The Gila County Board of Supervisors has joined in a statewide plea for federal help in upgrading the state’s increasingly overwhelmed wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

The county joined the Arizona County Supervisors Association in pleading for billions in federal aid to shore up the state’s quavering water supply.

Arizona’s drinking and wastewater systems scored as C or C- in the American Society of Civil Engineers recent rating.

The assessment suggested the state will have to invest $15 billion in upgrading both wastewater and drinking water infrastructure over the next 20 years in order to keep up with both population growth and the upkeep of existing facilities.

Gila County joined with every other county in the state to applaud Rep. Greg Stanton for introducing the Arizona Environmental Infrastructure program.

“To help address these infrastructure challenges, additional federal investments are needed – particularly in small and rural tribal communities that lack the financial resources to do the necessary repairs and replacement.”

The survey of the state’s infrastructure identified some $9 billion in needed drinking water improvements and nearly $7 billion in wastewater treatment infrastructure.

The federal fiscal year 2021 budget included $100 million for the US Army Corps of Engineers for environmental infrastructure. The House Appropriations Committee is now considering fiscal 2022 priorities.

In addition, the Biden administration has proposed a $2 trillion national infrastructure bill, which includes money for many such projects. The bill has already passed the House on a straight party-line vote, but faces strong Republican opposition in the Senate.

The counties addressed the letter to Arizona Congressman Greg Stanton, who sits on the House Appropriations committee.

“Thank you for your work to advance the water infrastructure needs of Arizona’s Counties. We stand ready to work with you to pursue this worthwhile and needed funding.”

The drought has revealed glaring problems in Arizona’s water infrastructure. In rural areas, water tables are declining rapidly. Most rural areas have no limits on groundwater pumping and in many areas corporate farms have drilled wells thousands of feet deep that have pumped so much water that homeowners can’t afford to drill wells deep enough to reach groundwater.

In addition, the drought has drained Lake Meade and Lake Powell, prompting the US Bureau of Reclamation to warn that the state will have to dramatically reduce its use of water in the Central Arizona Canal.

Projected increases in average global temperatures will likely cause an increase in the severity and intensity of drought in the southwest, according to computer climate models. This could lead to water shortages in coming decades. Ironically, the climate projections suggest the state could also face more frequent and violent flooding in the non-drought years.

The trend will likely increase the need for flood control works, reclamation of wastewater, water storage facilities, groundwater management and other infrastructure – all compounded by the impact of continued population growth.

Fortunately, Payson’s in much better shape than the rest of the state thanks to Payson’s investment of more than $50 million to secure 3,000 acre-feet annually from the C.C. Cragin Reservoir atop the Rim. The project will more than double Payson’s long-term water supply.

However, to underscore the need for an investment in water infrastructure — the failure of last summer’s monsoon, the dry winter and the hot spring left the C.C. Cragin Reservoir nearly empty after the end of the winter runoff season. Payson will likely not get any water at all from the reservoir, leaving it dependent on its network of groundwater wells. Fortunately, Payson has used much of the C.C. Cragin water for the past two seasons to recharge those wells — which had dropped by more than 100 feet due to overuse and drought.