Why are two local companies planning to build separate Colorado River water pipelines instead of combining efforts?
Because there are basic philosophical disagreements between the sponsors – mostly about a proposed copper mine in the Santa Rita Mountains – and the pipes serve each company’s needs.
Officials of Community Water Company of Green Valley (CWC) and Farmers Investment Co. (FICO) agreed on those points in front of an audience of about 125 Friday at a Green Valley Council forum at the West Center.
Both will be 36-inch pipes, officials said, meaning each could carry about 30,000 acre-feet a year of water in the effort to recharge the local aquifer, which is dropping by several feet a year. An acre-foot is about 325,000 gallons, or enough to serve four families per year. The local overdraft is about 40,000 AF a year.
The pipelines will leave the region with a lot of empty pipeline capacity in the short run. The pipes will have a capacity of about 30,000 AF each, with 7,000 going through the CWC pipe and between 3,000 and 4,000 AF in the FICO pipe.
CWC board chairman Virgil Davis said his company’s plan, to use its allocation from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) to recharge 7,000 acre-feet of water a year starting in 2013, would actually raise the aquifer level by 100 feet near the recharge station, planned for an area near Old Nogales Highway east of Wal-Mart.
The planned CWC pipeline, recharge facility and 15 years of CAP water would be paid for by the owners of the proposed Rosemont Copper open-pit mine in the Santa Rita Mountains.
Davis said CWC and the Waldens, who own FICO, met several times about combining efforts, but “we can’t seem to figure out how to get all pieces of the puzzle together.”
“We have some basic philosophical differences between us and the Waldens. The present pipeline we are working on will accommodate all users in the region with no restriction. If you are a water user or from outside the region and want to pay to move water through the pipeline, it would be accommodated,” Davis said.
Concerns over Rosemont
FICO Vice President and General Counsel Nan Walden said “we do have a different philosophy about how to recharge. While your project does not cost your ratepayers, it will raise rates to all other water companies in the valley.
“All others will be impacted to their detriment. Because a mine is exempt, it can pump unlimited amounts of groundwater for unlimited amounts of time. If we let an unregulated new user come in, it could go on for years and we’ll never reach sustainability,” Walden said.
Residents long have asked if FICO is planning its own pipeline just because it opposes Rosemont Copper. Walden didn’t say so, but said Rosemont will draw 6,000 acre-feet of water a year from the local aquifer.
Walden added that she thinks the mine could continue drawing water for 40 to 60 years, well beyond its 15-year recharge commitment, and this will hurt the aquifer in the long run. She said Rosemont’s wells, in Sahuarita Heights would lower the aquifer and cause land subsidence in an area she said was already stressed by mines and agriculture.
FICO has been talking to CAP about connecting to the system since the 1990s, long before Rosemont got into the picture, Walden and Larry Dozier, deputy director of the Central Arizona Project said. Dozier pointed out that a pipeline along Pima Mine Road owned jointly by CAP and Tucson Water was built years ago with a flange to allow a connection by FICO.
Davis said what the CWC will get from its project is permanent ownership of a pipeline that will allow it to obtain CAP water after years of paying for the right to buy CAP water. Also, a recharge station near one of its wells, and 105,000 AF of free CAP water over 15 years, as Rosemont pays for the water and for transporting it. (Once a pipeline is in place, CAP water has three operating costs: the allocation cost for the right to buy it; the purchase cost, and the cost of moving it through a pipeline.)
“We could choose to move water through that pipeline, but we’d have to purchase the water ourselves, but at this point we don’t have a need to do so for our own use, and we’d have to pay for transport for the next 15 years,” Davis said. “It seemed like a good deal with CWC to continue with the current plan.”
Rosemont, in an apparent effort to blunt local opposition, has been buying CAP water and storing it in Marana but promises to recharge 105,000 AF locally when the pipeline and recharge facility are done.
FICO’s pecan orchards are a state-permitted Groundwater Savings Facility with a 22,000 AF capacity, and FICO says it plans to use its allocation of more than 3,000 AF of CAP water a year for irrigation, leaving that amount of higher-quality groundwater in the ground. The 3,000-plus AF allocation will decline to zero by 2030, but before then FICO hopes to get water from the Arizona Water Bank and the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which intends to recharge water close to areas of new development.
Davis said CWC made an effort “to coordinate with FICO and make temporary use of the recharge facility, but time went by and that option did not work out.”
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