More can be done to address our water problem, it just takes more money

Almost tapped out

Nick Hont, a civil engineer who was formerly director of Mohave County Development Services, stands at the Monsoon Park water detention basin at Eastern and Southern avenues where he wants to put in an injection well to help recharge the Hualapai Valley Basin aquifer.

Photo by Hubble Ray Smith.

Nick Hont, a civil engineer who was formerly director of Mohave County Development Services, stands at the Monsoon Park water detention basin at Eastern and Southern avenues where he wants to put in an injection well to help recharge the Hualapai Valley Basin aquifer.

KINGMAN – Nick Hont adamantly insists he’s just an engineer, not some savior who can turn water into wine.

But if someone exists who can perform such a miracle, the Hungarian-born and educated civil engineer wants to make sure there’s plenty of water for them in the Hualapai Valley Basin aquifer.

At least enough for the next 100 years.

That’s about as far out as he’ll stick his neck, based on a 2011 study by the U.S. Geological Survey that showed 9,900 acre-feet of water going into the aquifer each year and 15,500 acre-feet being pumped out, creating a “water budget deficit” of 5,600 acre-feet.

“This is before agriculture came to town,” Hont said in reference to farming operations that have taken root in Red Lake and Valle Vista. “They’ve taken out quite a bit of water.”

Annual well-pumping reports from Arizona Department of Water Resources indicate a significant increase in agricultural use, jumping from 8,000 acre-feet in 2014 to 23,000 acre-feet in 2015 and 32,000 acre-feet in 2016.

As more farming operations migrate to Mohave County from water-starved California, along with East Coast hedge funds snapping up land here, water deficit projections could run as high as 100,000 acre-feet.

And those are conservative estimates, said Hont, former director of Mohave County Development Services who’s been contracted by the county to help correct Kingman’s depleted water levels.

Rural residents of Mohave County get their water from three primary aquifers – Hualapai, Sacramento and Detrital – and Hont is focused on the Hualapai Basin, which serves Kingman.

He’s convinced that the aquifer can be recharged with up to 4,000 acre-feet of storm water runoff that would be captured in detention basins around the valley.

“How do we do that? By going to the lowest point, where the outlet is, and filling it with gravel and basically the gravel intercepts the sand layer and that will provide infiltration and find its way to the aquifer.”

It’s a little more complex than that, Hont conceded, but that’s the idea.

Hont is focusing on “enhanced infiltration areas,” or detention basins, that would save roads from flooding during every heavy rain and inject storm water into the aquifer.

He used the Quail Run basin, built by Mohave County Flood Control District in Mohave Valley at a cost of $200,000 to $300,000, as a good example.

In Kingman, he would start with the Monsoon Park detention basin at Southern and Eastern avenues.

Kids blocked the drainage with cardboard a few years to create a small pond, which they loved, Hont said. When the city unplugged the drain, water ran along Route 66, through a culvert and ended up flooding Bank Street.

“My hope is to capture water here and basically eliminate – or at least reduce – downstream flooding,” Hont said at the basin.

He’s also eyeing Valle Vista, Rattlesnake Wash, Peacock Mountains, Bank Street at Kingman High School and various infiltration sites on agrarian land, especially in higher elevations where the soil is more suited for soaking up water.

Mohave County’s alluvial basin is 10 to 25 miles wide in some places, with sediment-filled basins separated by the Cerbat, Hualapai and Music mountain ranges. Basin deposits typically range from 1,000 to 7,000 feet, but are thicker or thinner in some locations, Hunt noted.

Water that runs down to Red Lake never drains into the aquifer due to the hard clay surface. It will sit there until it evaporates, Hont said.

That’s why he’s looking at suitable land along the foothills, hopefully land that the county can acquire for free from private land owners, the BLM and city and county rights of way.

Sites containing underlying subsurface soils of clean sand and gravel with negligible low-plastic fines content will be most suitable for infiltration without extensive engineering work, Hont said.

Jamie Macy, hydrologist for the USGS in Flagstaff, gave a presentation for Mohave County’s Board of Supervisors on Feb. 19, explaining how the USGS model will monitor and measure groundwater over the next three years.

The problem is expanding groundwater withdrawal from the Hualapai Basin, which Macy said could grow to 100,000 acre-feet a year.

The objective of the USGS study is to assess the impact of groundwater withdrawal and enhanced recharge of the basin, he said.

“There were changes in groundwater levels in those previous studies, groundwater withdrawals, basin characteristics, the size of the basins, how much water the basins can hold and our groundwater budgets,” Macy said.

“It’s our first preliminary numeric groundwater model and that’s what we’re building on here now is a new, more complex groundwater model so we can run scenarios and understand what can happen in the future from groundwater withdrawals.”

The USGS hydrologist explained how the model will not only measure groundwater levels in the aquifer, but also microgravity measurements that are directly related to changes in aquifer levels, which are dropping a foot and a half every year, he said.

He expects model calibration to be completed in May, monitoring to be completed by March 2019 and a published final report in March 2020.

Hont said the USGS models will be used to predict the effect of farm wells pumping in different areas of the basin, and more importantly, they will give anticipated time frames for the change of water levels.

The county will help the groundwater model by finding areas where future drawdown is of most concern such as the city’s well field.

As far as feasibility, Hont said a cost-benefit evaluation will be performed for each specific site. Based on a design concept report from the City of Kingman, the cost of an injection well to recharge treated wastewater into the aquifer is about $1 million.

With additional system components of pumps, piping, contingency and engineering, a system with a single well would cost about $1.8 million, and two wells would be about $3.3 million.

“I’m an engineer. We can always certainly do more, it’s just a matter of money,” Hont said.