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3/11/2014 11:42:00 AM
City considers allowing some building permits despite looming water crisis
Williams City Manager Brandon Buchanan discusses options for finding more water during a March 6 special work session including drilling a new well and getting the existing Rodeo Well up and running. Marissa Freireich/WGCN
Williams City Manager Brandon Buchanan discusses options for finding more water during a March 6 special work session including drilling a new well and getting the existing Rodeo Well up and running. Marissa Freireich/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Williams City Council members brainstormed ways to tackle the city's water shortage at a special meeting and work session March 6.

The city implemented level four water restrictions-the highest level-Feb. 25 to deal with a water crisis. The limitations prohibit people from using potable water for irrigation or any reason other than for public health or emergency reasons.

While the restrictions also prohibit the city from issuing new building permits, the council discussed changing the city code to possibly allow issuing some permits.

"We need water regardless of whether we issue permits or not. We need it for the people that are here today," City Manager Brandon Buchanan said. "Now here's a source of money by issuing permits that we can generate revenue to pay for that water to serve not just the new development but the existing people that are here. That development may not be drawing any water for six months to a year."

Chief Building Inspector Tim Pettit said some building permits do not affect the water system, like those for the addition of a garage. He added that some areas in town do not use the city's water system.

Williams had 18 new homes last year and two new homes the year before, according to Pettit. While residential projects use a relatively small amount of water, Councilman Don Dent said some other projects would use a considerable amount of water.

Buchanan said those are the projects that would generate the most revenue.

"Yeah we have some projects that would take a lot of water, but those are also the projects that are going to pay a lot of impact fees. A house is going to give us $10,000 in impact fees," he said. "We need 10 times that amount to make progress right now."

City Attorney Kellie Peterson said the city could establish a set of criteria to determine which projects it would issue building permits for, which would take into consideration factors like the number of fixtures.

During the call to the public portion of the meeting, attorney Duane Weston addressed the concerns of the Williams Lodging and Business Coalition about the city possibly continuing to issue building permits.

Weston said under the current water restrictions, residents can't water their lawns and gardens or wash their cars, and businesses can't fill their pools or use more water than they did at this time last year.

"I ask the council to be very cautious in saying, 'Well one building permit's not going to matter,' because they do," Weston said. "You can't make the local citizens sacrifice and on the other side say, 'Oh we're going to let somebody else from out of town come in and build a business that will use a lot of water.'"

Buchanan responded to Weston's comments later in the meeting by saying: "Are (residents) willing to sacrifice coming up with another $2.5 million to explore water supplies or would they rather us put that on the backs of new development?"

Councilman Bernie Hiemenz noted that if the city chose to continue issuing building permits, the new homes and business would be subject to the same level four water restrictions as the rest of the community.

A man in the audience spoke, saying he was from Kingman and bought a lot near Elephant Rocks Golf Course where he wants to build a home and retire.

"We put our house up for sale in Kingman, Arizona," he said. "Right now I gotta be out of my house in Kingman April 17 and I can't build my house in Williams."

Moore said cases like these are what make the council's decision about building permits so difficult.

The council directed the city attorney and city staff to draft an ordinance that would propose criteria for which building permits to issue. The council will review the ordinance at its March 13 meeting.

Rodeo Well option

The council also voted to authorize emergency spending authority for city staff to explore getting water from the Rodeo Well.

Samples taken from the Rodeo Well in 2000 and 2001 contained almost three times the maximum level of arsenic content allowed. City water superintendent James Courchaine said staff would need to experiment with different treatment options for the water from the Rodeo Well.

Dent said if a pump had not been designed to deal with the water quality issues with the Rodeo Well then he thought that option was a waste of time and money.

"We put one specially-ordered completely stainless steel pump in and that ate it up in about three weeks," he said.

City staff said the only way to find out what the water quality issues are in Rodeo Well is to put a pump in the ground and complete some tests.

The first step will be to camera the system to make sure the casing is intact, which will cost about $4,000. The next step will be to put a pump in the well and to find out what will be required to treat the water. This step could cost between $100,000 and $200,000.

Currently Salt River Project (SRP) allows the city to pump 228 million gallons of water per year from its two existing wells. At the rate the city is pumping water right now, it would reach about 229 million gallons by the end of the year, which would exceed the limit.

If the city does go over the limit, it could face fines or possibly risk losing the water supply. Peterson said the city should start the procedure to ask SRP for more water.

Councilman Lee Payne said asking SRP for more water would be a Band-Aid, but the city also needed a long-term cost-effective solution, like a new well.

If the Rodeo Well is not usable, the city is looking into drilling a well on South Road. Determining the viability of the different well options would require considerable testing and money.

"Everything we're talking about here is a crapshoot," Buchanan said. "Any of those could not work out and we're out of that money still."

Another option to help with the water situation is a water meter replacement program. After the results from testing 21 meters are back, the city will decide how to proceed with the program.

"As soon as you put a meter in the ground, it starts slowing down in the customer's favor," Buchanan said. "It's under-registering the amount of water. It means you're paying for less water than you're actually using."

The city estimates it is not billing for about half of the water it sends out of the plant, partly because of leaks, but mostly because of inaccurate meters.

"Can businesses stand to give up 50 percent of their potential revenue?" Buchanan said. "That's $900,000 a year that we need to be reinvesting in the system."

City officials may choose to replace all of the city's meters at once or start with commercial meters first, since commercial entities use the most water. Replacing the meters will allow the city to charge for the correct amount of water people are using, and may encourage people to reduce their water usage.

Moore asked the city to come up with financing options for the meter replacement program before the council comes to a decision.

The council also discussed reducing the amount of watering for the ball fields, from the Little League fields to the high school fields. A city employee estimated the high school fields use about 4,000 to 6,000 gallons per day and the city ball fields use about 60,000 gallons of potable water per day. Council members said they did not believe the second number was accurate.

Payne said the sports fields are important to the youth of the community.

"There are a few things in this town that we have got an investment in that would be a huge sum of money to replace or maybe not ever get back," he said. "I think it's worth something looking at keeping it alive."

Council members directed staff to use the minimal amount of water needed to maintain the fields.

The council may vote on several water-related items at a March 13 meeting.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, March 14, 2014
Article comment by: old timer

The City should have gotten involved with the Prescott and Chino Valley boys and fought SRP.

SRP is not entitled to all the ground water in the redwall-muav aquifer that supposedly supplies water to the headwaters springs of the Middle Verde River. The Williams wells are too far to be considered as sub-flow for these springs.

If it is groundwater, Arizona law
recognizes no connection between the pumping and SRP’s rights to the river.
While defining the parameters of the subflow zone requires sophisticated
mapping and other historical and scientific data, the subflow zone is “usually less
than a mile wide.” Because Prescott and Prescott Valley’s proposed well field is
between fifteen and twenty miles from the Verde’s headwaters, it is unlikely their
proposed wells or the wells’ cones of depression will reach into the subflow zone.
In fact, ADWR reached this conclusion in November 2008. Noting that water
withdrawn from a well is presumed to be groundwater barring clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary, ADWR determined that because of the
distance of Prescott’s proposed well site from the river, the water it plans to pump
is not subflow and therefore not subject to the surface water rights of downstream
users like SRP.

Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014
Article comment by: OMG .....

The water at the rodeo well is not any good. How hard is that to understand Mr. City Manager and council.??

You have a better chance of going to court with SRP and seeing if they really have the right to the water that they claim to have. That well water does not flow south. It is "old" water and was tested as such. Tell SRP to take a hike. How will SRP look in the court of public opinion when they don't allow a little ol town like Williams to pump water to it's residents in a drought situation???? Get some guts and challenge srp.

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: Laurie Harwood

I feel that I have to apoligize. I used a surname, instead of being honest. I can't drag up user names, to get my point across. I LIVE HERE, and this is NOT Willville. I am Lifelong Resident

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: Williams Supporter

Stopping new construction is not the same thing as not allowing people to move to Williams...there are plenty of rentals available. Given the water issues we should not allow any new construction (that requires water) until all the rentals are occupied

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: Lifelong Resident

Surprise! NOT we have had drought problems for years. We voted on the Williams Council Members to take care of Williams. Why can't they declare Williams in a State of Emergency, and get some help. Cities in California have done this. Sometimes you have to put a band-aid on things, for them to heal. I love kids, and I understand that they need outdoor activities. The Diamond in Baseball is the most important thing, not the grass surrounding it. This was paid for, by tax payers or grants. I have trees, shrubs, and roses, that i love, and I have paid for with my own money. Do you guys care about that? I will put the plug down, and save my bathwater, like I have done in some past years. I just hope the council will put a plug on some things also.

Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Article comment by: John Conner

Allowing more people to move to Williams at the moment doesn't make any sense. If we don't have the water we don't have the water. We also shouldn't be spending huge amounts of local taxpayer money just to accomodate new arrivals. We'll get through this crisis but we will need to conserve throughout. Don't give in to the money interests on the Council.

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Article comment by: Misty Circle


Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Article comment by: J Sheward

Now it looks like being in that pipeline project would have been a good idea.
what ideas could our community come up with to gut more water
Like putting all that plowed snow up hill form our dams and lakes, Too late for this year but plenty of time left till next year.
use reclaimed waste water to irrigate,

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Article comment by: Williams Supporter

I like Williams....but it is crazy to use potable on the ballfields. If the golf course can survive on non-potable water why can't the school and public ball fields. If that is the only option...our kids need to get used to playing games on a dirt field as many of us did as kids

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