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Water, water everywhere, or not?
by Ivan Finley
former Sedona Mayor

We have  recently been advised by the Arizona Water Company (AWC) and the city of Sedona to go to extraordinary means to conserve water. Are we the users responsible for the cause of this? Not necessarily!

This last alert was caused by the AWC’s own negligence of not keeping up with the growth of Sedona. They do not have enough wells. They do not have enough storage capacity. They do not have pumps capable of drawing more water from the aquifer. Do we have enough water under Sedona? According to every hydrological study of the area, the answer is “YES.”

AWC has a history of problems with supplying us with water. If a well goes down in a long hot-spell, they will have a problem again. This has happened before. When the Oak Creek Water Company had a well go down a few years ago, the AWC had a difficult time helping them with water.

AWC also has a history of not cooperating with the city of Sedona:

•           For years they would not agree to a franchise agreement.

•  They refused to partner with the city on a hydrological study.

•  We still have areas with inadequate mains.

•  Areas still have insufficient pressure to fire hydrants.

•  Do they still have concrete-asbestos water lines? They used to.

•  They allowed 120,000 gallons of drilling fluid into Oak Creek.

•  One of their managers was charged by AZ Dept. of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) for this.

They should be ahead of this issue. They have a record of the growth of this community (about 3.5% a year average). They hooked up an average of 120 new customers a year for a 10-year period (1983 through 1993), and they have their records since. We know that Sedona will have about 7,000 new residents in the future. Why is this so difficult to plan for?

Is there a solution? I think so.

The city of Sedona should buy both water companies and set up a city-owned utility. Can they afford it? The last figures I saw was that AWC could be purchased and paid for out of the net profits made by AWC. This would give the city control of both the water distribution systems and the wastewater treatment facility. Then maybe we could review the possibility of charging sewer rates on water usage, like we promised many years ago.

Is Sedona the only city in the area with water problems? Absolutely not. The Camp Verde area has wells with high levels of arsenic. At the present time, 50 parts per billion is the allowable limit, but that is being changed. In 2000, the AWC in Sedona tested 10 ppb of arsenic. Bridgeport has had serious water problems for years - wells going dry, having to dig them deeper and deeper.

IS THERE A SOLUTION FOR THE WHOLE VERDE VALLEY?

My suggestion is to get every community in this area together under one umbrella and create a DOMESTIC WATER IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT. This would be the driving force to coordinate all the water delivery systems in its area. The district then could purchase the existing delivery systems. The district would not have the power to condemn. A water district is formed the same way as other districts, they would have to have an elected board of directors.

The first directors would be appointed by the Yavapai County Supervisors. It would be my recommendation that the Sedona City Council take the lead to make this happen. We are not the worst off in the water quantity issue; therefore, it is not as urgent of an issue as our partner communities face. But it would show some generous cooperation.

They would have to work with Supervisor Arlo “Chip” Davis to get the ball rolling. Davis has been instrumental in water issues since his first election, but has he helped solve any of his area’s water quantity or quality supply? Now would be his chance.

The District would also have the power and the authority, along with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, to finally do a hydrological study of the area. We have spent too many years and thousands of dollars and still have not improved the quality and quantity of our valley’s water supply.

FIX IT NOW OR PAY LATER.

AWC says they have 200 customers that have doubled their water usage. A recent study, “Water Use Trends in the Southwestern United States,” by Michael O’Donnell and Jonathan Rademaeker, U. S. Geological Survey, states: “A significant factor affecting domestic water use has been an increasing number of single family homes with fewer members in those households.” Households with a higher income bracket tend to use more water. It also states that the cost of water does not appear to affect the quantity used.

The influx of costlier and larger homes in the city of Sedona (it appears that those owners have higher incomes) may be influencing the higher usage. More of these homes have swimming pools, spas and hot tubs. More misting systems are being seen.

Several articles have appeared lately, accusing the city of wasting water by spraying it in the air and/or on the ground. That is not necessarily true. I learned way back in high school that today’s evaporation is someone else’s rain tomorrow. We would not have monsoons or rain if it were not for evaporation. Watering by the wastewater plant is used by evaportranspiration or incorporated into vegetation. A high percentage is infiltrated into the soils and returns to the groundwater system.

If the community feels that the city is wasting its wastewater by spraying, there was a solution offered a few years back that the nay-sayers and the Forest Service shot down - a municipal or private 18-hole golf course north of the Sedona Cultural Park. That would have allowed the city to activate the 12-inch return line that will never be used unless there is a major customer or user of treated effluent water somewhere in the city. (So Paul Chevalier, if you are a golfer or have any influence, go get them, and for Pete’s sake let’s don’t give that water away. It is a valuable commodity.)

Should we ignore water conservation methods? Absolutely not. Should we have a building code that allows for a separate gray water system to be used to water the outside landscaping areas? Almost certainly - we could be the leader in this area.

If you agree with anything I have said, please help pass it along to the City Council and the Yavapai County Supervisors. If you disagree with what I say, then as always, you are entitled to your opinion.

P.S. I write this as I sit in my hot tub with the misters on.

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