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2/25/2014 8:00:00 AM
Williams faces 'water crisis'
The water level in the city of Williamsí Kaibab Lake reservoir makes the reservoir unusable. The water levels at Dogtown Lake and City Dam render those reservoirs unusable as well. Ryan Williams/WGCN
The water level in the city of Williamsí Kaibab Lake reservoir makes the reservoir unusable. The water levels at Dogtown Lake and City Dam render those reservoirs unusable as well. Ryan Williams/WGCN

Marissa Freireich
Williams-Grand Canyon News Reporter

WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Williams is facing a water crisis.

After an unusually dry winter, the city's water supply is dwindling at a rate that has caused city officials to implement water restrictions.

Level four water restrictions-the highest level-go into effect Feb. 25. According to city code, these restrictions go into place, "When water demand exceeds total production capability and distribution storage reserves are at fifty percent (50%); or reservoir storage reserves are less than ten (10) months supply any time after April."

City Manager Brandon Buchanan said although it isn't April yet, the restrictions are still necessary.

"Based on the winter we've had so far and the outlooks in the foreseeable forecast we're just going to go ahead and get a jumpstart on those restrictions now," he said.

The limitations prohibit people from using potable water for irrigation or any reason other than for public health or emergency reasons. They also prohibit people from refilling swimming pools and prohibit the city from irrigating the golf course fairways and roughs.

The penalty for violating level four water restrictions is a $100 surcharge, which doubles for every repeat violation.

Excessive water consumption rates also go into effect under level four restrictions. According to city code, "Single Family Residential rates shall increase to one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the established rate for any water consumption between fifteen thousand (15,000) and twenty thousand (20,000) gallons. Rate shall increase to two hundred percent (200%) of the established rate for any water consumption greater than twenty thousand (20,000) gallons per billing cycle."

The city council may consider adjusting these excessive water consumption rates at a future meeting.

Level four restrictions also prevent the city from issuing new commercial and residential building permits. Permits that the city has already started will still be issued.

However, the council may consider amending the code to allow the city to continue issuing building permits so it can still collect impact fees.

"Right now it's almost counterintuitive to not write those permits," Buchanan said. "Right now I would argue we need to be writing those permits, collecting that money, knowing that those projects aren't going to come online for six to eight months anyway and get that money in the bank to fix this problem. We need a new (water) supply whether that development goes in place or not."


The last time Williams implemented water restrictions was about eight or nine years ago.

"It's somewhat unusual but in the grander scheme of things it's Arizona, it's the western United States so it's not unheard of or shouldn't be that unusual," Buchanan said. "It's just we're in this drought again. We're at the point now where we don't have a whole lot of other choice."

City staff and city council members talked about the water situation at a Feb. 18 work session.

Currently, three out of five of the city's reservoirs are unusable: Dogtown Lake, City Dam and Kaibab Lake.

"They're too low for our intake pipes to draw water from or the water is septic," Buchanan said. "Basically in lay man's terms, it's too dirty for us to treat."

As of Feb. 4, Santa Fe Dam had about 31 million gallons of usable water. Once that's gone, the city will try to use water from Cataract Lake, which has 34 million gallons of usable water. The city is unsure of whether it can treat Cataract Lake water since it has never needed to use it before.

The city is also pumping water from both of its wells 24/7 into Dogtown Lake to stock up on water until the summer demand requires the use of the wells in addition to the lake water. From Feb. 3 to May 9, the wells will pump about 59 million gallons of water into Dogtown Lake.

By May 9, the city is expected to start relying on the stockpile of water in Dogtown Lake and well production, with the remaining reservoirs exhausted.

"It's bleak, it's not pretty, it's the best we have," said James Courchaine, the city's water superintendent.

Although relying so heavily on the wells is expensive, the plan should get the city through the end of summer. It costs about $35,000 a month to run both wells around the clock.

With Buchanan declaring a water crisis, city officials are now assessing their options.

One option is to ask Salt River Project (SRP) officials to consider raising the cap on the amount of water the city is allowed to pump. Currently the company allows the city to pump 700 acre-feet, or 228 million gallons of water, a year. 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 SRP agreed to raise the cap, the city could put larger pumps in the wells to increase their capacity.

Another option is to explore getting water from the Rodeo Well. This option hasn't worked in the past since the pumps did not work with the well and the water contains an unknown amount of arsenic.

The potential for a well in the South Road or Garland Prairie area may also be a possibility. However, drilling a new well would cost in the $2 million range and would require going through a six to eight month approval process with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

"Each one of those has pitfalls and advantages," Buchanan said. "There's not just an easy quick solution."

Related Stories:
• Williams water crisis comes to an end after late winter storm replenishes reservoirs
• One year after declaring a water crisis, Williams city officials continue to work on finding a permanent water supply

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Article comment by: Ron Pauly

Many years ago the city wanted to build another dam. SRP killed that idea.

Posted: Friday, March 7, 2014
Article comment by: for nought

limiting growth, specifically population is a viable option, specifically for long term. not only in williams, but throughout the world.

can a sustainable economy exist without 'growth'?

how about grow within instead of continuous expansion...?

eliminate self inflicted "end of pipe" solutions.

utilize logic opposed to reason.

... or just move on

Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014
Article comment by: Lifelong Resident

Trevor Pearson, could you please run for Mayor? You would already have five votes, coming your way from our family alone.

Posted: Thursday, March 6, 2014
Article comment by: Timothy Roeder

What residential home in God's name would use 15,000+ gallons a month? We barely use 3,000-4,000 a month, even with a garden.

Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Article comment by: Trevor Pearson

Secure water supplies have been an issue for the Williams community for decades - if not since its founding. The city as been very limited in its options for economic growth and diversity because of this. The issue is not just an economic one, but also a public health and safety concern.
However, limiting growth (in population, construction or economic) is not a viable solution to the problem. Water scarcity is a problem now, under current demands. Long term solutions that increase inflows, storage, and efficiency are needed to guarantee a safe and prosperous future for the community.
Many issues that are important to our town such as economic diversity, improving our schools, and fixing our roads and parks, are all constricted by the issue of water scarcity.
Addressing this issue will involve a sizable commitment of financial resources, navigation through webs of local, state, and federal policy, and dedicated effort from our local community leaders.
Water issues have hobbled our community for decades. The quality of our future depends on finding and executing viable, long term solutions. I think we can do it.

Posted: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Article comment by: John Conner

This is why Williams needs to be a no-growth town. We can't supply enough water for the current population. Forget the theme park ever coming here.

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by: Annette Satterlee

Why did the City wait until Level 4 restrictions were required to do something about the water situation? Why weren't restrictions implemented earlier when it was obvious that winter, and its critical rain and snow, was going to be nearly non-existent this year? Who is watching the water supply, who is supervising that person, and why didn't the council act sooner? Sounds like someone, or more than one person, dropped the ball big time on this one. And are they still employed?

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Article comment by: old timer

Where does the City Manager come up with this non-sense? Put bigger pumps in the wells to increase capacity? The size of the well's pumps are determined by the size of the casing. They can't just put in a bigger pump.

The rodeo well water is not good.

Are you trying to say that the City of Williams has never used water from Cataract Lake for drinking water before? BS.

When Cataract Lake is low, or needed for drinking water as it seems to be now, isn't the golf course able to use reclaimed water from the water treatement plant? To let the golf course die out is insane.

They don't need to ask SRP for an increase. They won't ever hit the 229 million mark by the end of 2014. The wells haven't been maintaned properly for the last 12 years. It will be a miracle if they don't break down before they ever get close to the 228 million that SRP allows them to pump. The whole SRP issue should have been litigated to begin with.

Lets all hope for a big March snow and then rain storm to fill the lakes!!!

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