BISBEE — For years, the talk of water problems usually concerned the San Pedro River aquifer west of the Mule Mountains. However, the Willcox aquifer on the eastern side of the county in the Sulphur Springs Valley is also creating problems for well owners.
Back in 2016, the state Legislature approved Senate Bill 1459 to help low-income residents address problems of wells going dry from declining water levels and replumbing water-delivery systems. The bill allowed county boards of supervisors to establish a program to which people could “make gifts, grants or donations” that would be used for financial assistance in such cases.
At the time, Cochise County Board of Supervisors members Ann English, Pat Call and Richard Searle looked into the possibility of creating an entity, possibly the Housing Authority, to handle donations and award grants to those who meet the low-income or fixed-income well-problem criteria.
It did not go anywhere, as the supervisors struggled with the idea of how to select those who might benefit from such grants and how to solicit donations from those agricultural or developmental industries whose use of water-impacted wells.
The possibility of renewed effort was raised by Supervisor Peggy Judd in a work session held Oct. 30 with English and Call.
Judd was not aware the subject had already been discussed, and asked Deputy County Attorney Sara Ransom to look into the matter to see if she could help her constituents in the Willcox area who faced declining water levels in the aquifer.
Ransom said Judd worked on a solicitation letter to be sent to private donors, including a Minnesota agricultural firm, Riverview, LLC.
Riverview bought out Faria Dairy on Kansas Settlement south of Willcox in 2014 and renamed it Coronado Farms. The company owns 10,000 acres and cultivates corn and wheat on nearly all of the land except for around 700 acres used for the dairy operation.
“Today is not only to update you, but to get direction,” Ransom said.
Call noted, “We made a run at that program, and it seemed it was basically impractical.”
Though Call thought the bill was supposed to require a state dollar match for the program, the state Legislature did not provide any such funding.
“It sounded like a good idea, until we looked into the details,” English stated. “If we get $50,000 in donations, which two wells do we choose to deepen? I remember something like that.”
Call stated the necessary amount of money to “do something useful” was “significant” and gathering donors who would give $100,000 or more was not practical.
Deepening a well to reach far enough down to provide water for an adequate length of time costs around $20,000. It would take some deep pockets to provide the necessary millions of dollars to handle the number of wells already affected by the drought of a variety of agricultural needs.
County Chief Civil Attorney Britt Hanson recalled from previous discussions that the entities that impacted neighboring wells were supposed to voluntarily fund the program. The Housing Authority was brought in to establish a set criterion in order to receive the funding.
Ransom said the Housing Authority was best to create the assessments for processing any such grants. However, in this situation, she thought it best to have some funding available before putting any county staff time into pursuing the program. Right now, there is no funding.
Judd reported she talked with Coronado, which has discussed drilling a deeper well to provide a continued water supply for some neighbors. However, the company was not sure how to move forward with a system to reach all those impacted.
Judd also tried to contact Nature Sweet, a non-GMO tomato farm, but did not get a call back.
The supervisors decided not to put more staff time into developing such a program.