KINGMAN - Mohave County needs to do everything it can to conserve water and gain political control of groundwater rights, the Planning and Zoning Commission was told Tuesday during a public workshop on the general plan.
Kingman is losing about 7,000 acre-feet a year of groundwater supply from the Hualapai Basin, and the city's aquifers could run dry after about 100 years, geologist Luis Vega said during his presentation at the two-hour workshop.
Approximation on the amount of water available in the basin seems to be a "whipping point" for a lot of people, Vega said.
"They say we can't tell how much water is in the basin. That's not true," Vega said.
He referred to a 2013 study by the U.S. Geological Survey that establishes a model for the impact of water discharge and recharge. It showed 10,000 acre-feet of recharge a year and 17,000 acre-feet going out, including 8,900 acre-feet to the city of Kingman.
"The real question is not how much water down to the gallon is in Hualapai Basin," Vega noted. "That's like counting deer on Hualapai Mountain. You might count the same deer three or four times. The real question is whether it's going down or up, and what is the impact going to be."
That was the concern of about 25 people who attended the workshop at Mohave County Public Works' Turquoise Room.
One man said he understands the furor over Jim Rhodes and Kingman Farms drawing an estimated 25,000 acre-feet to grow alfalfa in the Red Lake area, but conservation is the bigger picture.
A member of the Hualapai tribe encouraged county officials to "aggressively" pursue a management plan that would include a full assessment of water resources and promote water conservation, like collecting rainfall.
Another citizen wanted to know if anyone at the county level is keeping tabs on the total amount of water being used. Is there a "dynamic process" in place that says we're at our limit for drawdown, or is it reviewed every five years?
"For far too long, this state has given water to other states," another man said. "When you need a drink and it's not there, you're going to do whatever you need to get it."
Mohave County deputy attorney Robert Taylor said the county doesn't have much control over groundwater resources. Groundwater, or water under the surface of the Earth, is not subject to appropriation or ownership, he said.
"There's not much regulation outside of an AMA (Active Management Area)," Taylor said. "It's reasonable use, which means the property owner has the right to capture water for beneficial use, but can't take water away from the property."
The focus for counties outside of an AMA has been how to obtain water, rather than monitoring use, he said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Supervisors are authorized to consider the impact of water supply when considering land use zoning, and those concerns can be addressed in developing the general plan, Taylor added.
Vega said the Arizona Department of Water Resources controls water use inside an Active Management Area, but there are no measuring devices required on wells outside an AMA and no reporting required.
County residents should "beware of unintended consequences" when making water management decisions, Vega said. ADWR's safe-yield, in which usage is balanced by recharge, cannot be attained in Mohave County, even with no growth, he said.
"Eventually, the Hualapai aquifer will run dry," Vega said. "It might not be in our lifetime. One of the things we need to do is stop low-priority, high-volume use such as agriculture."
Arizona law exempts agriculture and mining from the well permit process, said Nick Hont, director of development services.
"They just do it. People don't come to the county, they just drill a well and pump," Hont said. "They just have to put it to beneficial use."
"Right now, local government is severely limited in what we can do to protect water supply," added Steve Moss, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors.
It's a political battle, and Mohave County doesn't have "big guns in that fight," Moss said.
Voters in Phoenix and Tucson have more power, and when water allocation from the Colorado River is cut and the pressure is on for water supply, they're going to say their demands are greater than Mohave County's, Moss said.
"Engage with state legislators," he told the audience. "If we throw ourselves into the hands of ADWR, we throw ourselves into the fire. I don't think an AMA or INA is the way to go. I believe there are local measures to take, but asking Phoenix or Maricopa (County) to save us - bad idea."