County Digs Deep To Satisfy Growing Thirst

Water hunters set depth at 2,000 feet


Gila County and a local water improvement district are getting ready to search for water deeper in the ground than anyone in the Rim country has ever sunk a drill.

The Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District, Gila County and Northern Gila County Water Alliance asked for bids this week on a water-exploration project that will punch a 2,000-foot hole into the ground in Strawberry.

Local officials and water experts have long speculated that a rich source of groundwater flows beneath the Rim at great depths, and project officials aim to find out if it's true.

The bid will be awarded Oct. 26 and drilling could start as early as November, water district chairman Howard Matthews said.

The hole, which will be drilled on Juniper Street near Oak, is the first of at least five exploration projects, Gila County District One Supervisor Ron Christensen said. The second exploratory hole will likely be drilled in Pine, he said.

The water district-county alliance and the United States Geological Survey hope to find out how much, if any, water is in the red-wall limestone below the Rim, county engineer Freddy Arteaga said.

But even if the alliance strikes water, it won't be prepared to develop it right away, Christensen said. This hole isn't a well, he said. If water is found, the alliance will have to come up with more money to develop the water.

"If we are lucky enough to get into large quantities of water, we will address that as a separate issue," Christensen said.

Matthews said the water improvement district board would renew water-development discussions with Brooke Utilities, the water utility in the area, if water is found. If the water company declined to develop the water, he said, the improvement district would.

The Arizona Legislature contributed $120,000 to the project, the water district funded $50,000, which it raised during its first tax levy, the U.S.G.S. added $22,500 and the U.S. Forest Service contributed $13,000.

That funding will continue based on a five-year commitment by the agencies to continue exploring, Christensen said.

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