Kingman’s water supply could be depleted within the next 100 years, and according to county residents, something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Representatives from the Arizona Department of Water Resources met with members of the Mohave County Public on Tuesday, where Kingman and Mohave County residents filled the county’s administrative complex nearly to capacity — and dozens more viewers tuned in to watch the meeting online.
The meeting was intended to give officials an opportunity to meet with county residents, and hear their thoughts about future predicted declines in the Hualapai Valley Groundwater Sub-Basin. That basin is expected to become unusable by Kingman residents within the next 100 years, at current trends, and the county has for two years sought protection for the aquifer as an “Irrigation Non-Expansion Area” under Arizona statute, protecting the sub-basin from future agricultural interests.
And county residents had a lot to say Tuesday evening, with dozens speaking at the meeting itself, and many more who were still awaiting a chance to do so before the meeting’s end.
The meeting, which was led by Water Resources Statewide Planning Manager John Riggins, was not a formal public meeting. The meeting’s purpose was specifically to gain information from the public, before state water officials informed a future decision on the matter to be made by Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Thomas Buschatzke.
Among members of the speaking public were former Arizona legislator Regina Cobb, Mohave County Supervisor Jean Bishop and Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter. Also among those speakers were ranchers, farmers and opponents of possible Irrigation Non-Expansion protections for the aquifer.
Pushback from local agriculture
A prolonged drought throughout the Southwest isn’t merely a concern for local governments, but for everyone involved – especially Mohave County’s agricultural industry.
Since the 19th Century, Mohave County has been home to agricultural farmers and ranchers, providing hundreds of food crops for distribution throughout the country each year. And although members of that industry may have understood the county’s desire to protect Kingman’s water supply, not all agreed that establishing the sub-basin as an “Irrigation Non-Expansion Area” was the best course of action.
Mike Roger, of Kingman-based Stockton Hill Farms, is tasked with maintaining irrigation efforts for the business.
“It’s important to us not to waste water,” Roger said. “The method we use for this is called a ‘drip hose’, which drips water directly at the base of the tree. There’s nearly no waste and nearly no evaporation. We do the majority of our watering at night, and we’ve employed the use of soil moisture probes … we have crews that go around, and if they find leaks, everything is fixed.”
At Stockton Hill Farms, Roger said employees don’t just make efforts to conserve water, but to replenish the aquifer beneath it. Acres of land that could otherwise have been developed for further agriculture have instead been used to develop water retention ponds, to transfer water back into the Hualapai Valley sub-basin.
Other speakers for the county’s agricultural industry indicated that water could be used both responsibly, and conservatively, without the need for statutory protections from further irrigation.
Farm owner Steve Schmidt also addressed the Arizona Department of Water Resources this week in reference to possible Irrigation Non-Expansion protections for the area. According to Schmidt, the maximum amount of water his farm is able to use, and how much it actually uses, are two different measurements – and it’s a disparity that may have led to an underestimation of the Hualapai Valley Sub-Basin’s remaining lifespan.
“We only have a six-month water season here, where trees are watered in a six-month period of time,” Schmidt said. “We might have a well that can pump up to 1,000 gallons per minute, but that doesn’t mean we’re pumping it at 1,000 gallons per minute. We have our drip-hoses, with emitters on them, confined to a certain amount of water that can go out of those hoses. We watch our water use very closely.”
And although county officials say there is almost 78,000 acres of farmland within the sub-basin area, only about 8,400 acres of that farmland is cultivated for agricultural purpose. With variations of water quality and soil beneath what potential farmland remains, however, Schmidt says the threat of further agricultural expansion in the Kingman area may not be as dire as local officials might believe.
“There’s not 80,000 good acres of farm in this county that would have quality water under it,” Schmidt said. “Maybe the soil would be okay, but maybe the salinity would be high, or the pH level, or different things – our acres in this county are very limited. There are maybe another 10% or 20% acre-increase that you could add if you really wanted to. And even that might not happen.”
Local leaders call for a solution
According to county officials, agricultural interests in the Kingman area consume about 60% of the Hualapai Valley Groundwater Sub-basin’s annual output. With predicted water levels within the basin expected to plummet, and in the midst of a 20-year drought throughout the region, county and Kingman city officials are seeking protection for the sub-basin as a matter of caution.
Kingman Mayor Ken Watkins addressed the issue at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Our community has been severely impacted by the rapid proliferation of industrial-scale agriculture in our groundwater basin,” Watkins said. “Historically, agriculture has not been a significant user of our groundwater … Now, there have been more than 20 private, non-exempt wells drilled in our basin, with a larger capacity than any municipal wells serving the Kingman water system. Water levels have declined from 4,048 feet in 1990 to 2,020 feet. I urge you to take any and all steps necessary to establish and designate an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area on the Hualapai Valley Sub-basin.”
Mohave County’s governing board has sought such a distinction for the sub-basin on two prior occasions before this year, but an “Irrigation Non-Expansion Area” designation could not be granted according to future predicted measurements. Mohave County Supervisor (and current Arizona County Supervisors Association President) Jean Bishop spoke on the issue before state water officials on Tuesday.
“I want to be able to ensure that the community has access to water that is not only plentiful, but affordable,” Bishop said. “For anyone who is against this (Irrigation Non-Expansion Area) designation, it will not hamper growth in the county, and will not impact residential gardens or fields of less than two acres. What it will do is allow us to manage our groundwater in a responsible way.”
According to Bishop, the county has seen an 88% increase in the number of high-volume wells installed throughout the past decade – and more than Mohave County or Kingman officials ever anticipated.
“Our basin’s groundwater is being depleted faster than we can replenish it. Decades of non-groundwater management, prolonged drought and heightened irrigation are dangerous. The Arizona Department of Water Resources needs to do the right thing and designate this basin. This will give our community confidence that we will continue to have access to groundwater to support future generations, for agriculture, and wells.”
Bishop says that until now, Mohave County has had no say in how land will be used, and there exist no reporting guidelines on how much water may be pumped from wells throughout the county. And that lack of regulation has placed the county at a disadvantage when planning for growth and its own economic security.
“Many have asked what happens when the basin reaches critical levels,” Bishop said. “Unfortunately, county taxpayers will bear the burden of higher water costs and potential tax increases to pay for deeper wells … or heaven forbid, they’ll be faced with having no water … we have a chance of preventing this.”
There’s still time to tune in, or join the discussion
The Arizona Department of Water Resources will continue to accept comments from Mohave County residents and stakeholders on the issue until 5 p.m. Sept. 30. Residents who wish to participate can contact the department by mail at: Arizona Department of Water Resources, Attn: Sharon Scantlebury, 1110 W. Washington St. Suite 310, Phoenix, AZ 85007
For residents who missed Tuesday’s public meeting, video of the meeting is available at the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ channel, azwater, on YouTube.