Groundwater: A crisis or not a crisis? That is the question

Alexis Young

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By Alexis Young / NewsBreak Pinal County

(Pinal County, AZ) It turns out Pinal’s potential groundwater crisis was debunked by Pinal Groundwater Task Force members, water resources managers of Arizona Water Company, Terry Sue Rossi; senior Vice President of Global Water Resources, Jake Lenderking; senior adviser to Arizona Water, Bill Garfield and Pinal County Supervisor, Steve Miller.

The task force has concluded their analysis inspired by an Arizona Department of Water Resources timeline illustrating a groundwater shortage of 8 million acre-feet over the next 100 years. When the Pinal Groundwater Task Force submitted their findings to the ADWR in March, their groundwater model included adjustments that drastically decreased the severity of the crisis.

But what is groundwater, and how could a shortage cause a crisis?

According to National Geographic, naturally processed groundwater is precipitation or water that permeates the soil or aquifers in empty pools beneath Earth’s surface. These aren’t underwater lakes and rivers.

The United States Geological Survey used an example of a sponge to drive the point home. “It fills the pores and fractures in underground materials such as sand, gravel, and other rock, much the same way that water fills a sponge.”

Groundwater has an incredibly significant role in agriculture, domestic sectors, industrial sectors, and drinking water.

With water being a finite resource, the University of Arizona’s Visual Guide to Water in the Pinal Active Management Area provides insight into the ebb and flow of groundwater. The most noticeable fluctuations occur agriculturally.

Pinal County pushed several initiatives to adjust to housing development issues rooted in what was thought to be a groundwater shortage. Last June, High Country News writer Sarah Tory interviewed Megan Santana, a business owner looking to build wealth by purchasing a home. Tory reported that Santana had to enter a lottery of potential homeowners before she could actually purchase her home. The lottery process was a direct result of the groundwater “issue.”

At that point in time, the Pinal Groundwater Task Force was operating as if they agreed with findings that outlined the shortage. Just a month later, Casa Dispatch quoted Miller, who maintained that the shortage (had there actually been one) wouldn’t be felt by residents today or tomorrow but in decades. Pinal County development had approved tens of thousands of ADWR certified lots but stopped approving new applications for groundwater use in an attempt at preservation.

USGS definition of groundwater said it is the “source of about 40 percent of water used for public supplies and about 39 percent of water used for agriculture in the United States.”

These would be scary numbers if the 2019 groundwater model was correct.

That same year KJZZ article found that the 8 million acre-feet shortage could cover Maryland in a foot of water. Luckily, the Arizona House Ad Hoc Committee on Groundwater Supply in Pinal County created the task force after it was suggested by the chairmen, Representative David Cook. It served as a proactive and counteractive measure to a problem’s questionable existence.

April 2022, Lenderking spoke to Casa Grande Dispatch on the progress the new groundwater model signifies and the work that still needs to be done, while Miller acknowledged the discrepancy between the two models.

“‘The original 2019 model reflects a regulatory approach which does not take into account the unique operations of water providers, and this new submittal corrects that,’ Miller said.”

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I found an unexpected comfort and interest in journalism. From storytelling to holding the powerful accountable to the more technical parts of the job, most all of it interests me. I’m using that interest to ignite lights that will illuminate truth.

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