Drilling permit expires Dec. 31
The clock is ticking on the temporary permit the City of Williams has with the U.S. Forest Service for Dogtown Well No. 1 on Kaibab National Forest. The permit for well exploration and test pumping expires Dec. 31.
Forest Service officials say they won’t be extending this permit until they analyze the impacts of drawing water from the well in compliance with National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). Until that process is completed, the city cannot be authorized to use it as a permanent resource.
"It’s my understanding, we won’t be reissuing a temporary permit," said Susan Skalski, Williams District ranger. "From the Forest Service’s perspective, we have laws and regulations we have to follow.
"We just need to work through the process."
Skalski stressed she is sympathetic to Williams’ current water crisis.
"We don’t want to leave the community high and dry," she said. "We certainly want to make sure there is a source of water for the future of Williams."
Other than this well, drilled and developed in the past year, Williams relies on surface water contained in five city reservoirs. Because of two consecutive dry winters, those reservoirs are at about 7 percent capacity.
In actuality, the well, situated two miles southeast of town close to Dogtown Lake now provides around 40 percent of Williams’ water supply. As a result, it has staved off the need for the city to purchase and truck in water from an outside source. City estimates put a $1,971,000 price tag on the well to date. During the last three fiscal years, the city has spent $2,862,000 on water development.
Drilling is underway on Dogtown Well No. 2, which lies about a mile to the west on city-owned property (see related story this page). But even if it does prove to be a successful venture, drillers aren’t likely to hit water of any commercial value until at least 3,200 feet. By Monday, they had drilled down 986 feet.
City officials have also secured an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) allowing them to purchase water from City of Flagstaff if Dogtown No. 1 does not produce sufficient water. However, the IGA is only a temporary fix in the case of emergency and stipulates Flagstaff water can only be used by Williams residents.
Tom Gillett, public services branch leader for Kaibab National Forest, focused on what issues need to be considered.
"A large part of the big burning issue is which subbasin the (existing) well draws water from," he said. "We are up against the gun on the termination of this permit."
Gillett said city-funded hydrological studies indicate Dogtown No. 1 is part of the Upper Verde Hydrographic Basin. If this is indeed the case, it shouldn’t affect seeps and springs in the Grand Canyon area.
"From our meeting with the city, the hydrologic report indicates water from the aquifer supplying the Dogtown Well does not flow into the Coconino Plateau Subbasin," Skalski said . "We are farming it out to the USGS office in Flagstaff for review."
Gillett said he is hoping to have a report back from USGS regarding the hydrological study before the end of this week. He also stressed the current permit authorizes exploration and testing and does not cover well development.
"At this point Williams is stretching it," Gillett said. "There can be no further development of the site until an environmental analysis is done."
Skalski also said she has asked city officials to submit a detailed plan for well site development that will include road access, utilities need to supply power, water pipelines, fencing and a building to house the pump and equipment.
Dennis Dalbeck, Williams city manager, said he is in the process of gathering this information, which should be available to the Forest Service within 10 days.
"We are currently working with Arizona Public Service to establish a route for electric power to both Dogtown No. 1 and 2," he said. "The other item we are presently researching is water line improvements to transport water from both wells to the city water distribution system."
Dalbeck described the building to house pump equipment as being approximately 10 feet by 20 feet, made of wood or block siding and will have a metal roof with a color consistent with its natural surroundings.
In late August, city officials submitted a hydrologic report on Dogtown No. 1 to Forest Service officials which sifts through technical data such as hydrogeology, structural features, surface and groundwater flow direction, hydrologic testing, water quality and radiocarbon dating.
"The withdrawal of groundwater from Dogtown well No. 1 will have no detrimental impact on the springs in the vicinity of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or other wells within the Coconino or Upper Verde hydrographic basins," the abstract preceding the report states.
The report, written by Michael Johnson and Robert Coache of Hydrotech Consulting Services of Las Vegas, argues a groundwater divide north of the Dogtown Well No. 1 causes "groundwater to flow in a dispersed pattern to the southwest, south and east southeast direction..."
In the section on water quality, Johnson and Coache state the well water’s chemical composition varies considerably from that of springs supplied by groundwater in the vicinity of the Grand Canyon.
Finally, the report deduces from radiocarbon dating water from Dogtown Well No. 1, it has a different source than springs in the South Rim area.
"... water extracted from Dogtown Well No. 1 has a apparent age of between 16,400 and 17,200 years old; ground water collected at a depth of 1000 feet below land surface from Santa Fe 1-A well has a apparent age of 4,730 to 5,430 years old, " the report states. "Fern spring has a apparent age of 16,100 to 16,300 years old; and Havasu spring has a apparent age of 23,600 to 24,600 years old."
It goes on to state, Fern and Havasu springs while located in close proximity to each other with similar chemistry, are drastically different in age.
"This would suggest that they most likely have a similar recharge area and the ground water migrates from the Fern Spring area toward Havasu spring," the report states. "The radiocarbon dating the apparent age of Fern spring is younger than the apparent age of Dogtown Well No. 1, which would suggest that it is unlikely that groundwater from the Dogtown Well No. 1 is the source of Fern and by inference it is also unlikely that it is the source of Havasu spring."
Once all the data is gathered NEPA dictates the Forest Service has three options to pursue — a categorical exclusion/decision memo, an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement (EIS).
‘What varies is the amount of documentation required," Skalski said. "Each gets more complex."
She said a decision memo is the shortest process and entails sending a letter out to interested parties.
An environmental assessment requires a 30-day scoping process and 45-day public appeal period prior to Forest Service decision.
An EIS solicits written public comments on suggested alternatives, which are analyzed and published. The analysis can give rise to additional alternatives, which also must go through public comment periods and publication. As a result the EIS process can stretch over several years.
"An EIS is always a possibility," Skalski said. "But our take on it now is no."
Skalski said the Forest Service is keeping interested parties posted on Dogtown Well No. 1, such as the City of Flagstaff, the Havasupai Tribe and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.