Geologist: Lots Of Water Down Deep In Pine

Pine Strawberry Water District mulls legal dispute, report on output of well

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A report on whether deep wells can supply all the water Pine and Strawberry need and a debate about whether the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District can legally buy a water company dominated the Saturday board meeting.

Several critics of the current board said the district doesn't qualify as a "domestic water improvement district," which means even if the current board goes through with a plan to buy the local water company -- the district couldn't actually operate it.

State law allows only "domestic" water improvement districts to set up their own boards and operate a water company. However, the legislation that established the Pine Strawberry District didn't include the word "domestic."

"For the past 12 years, everyone in the community thought it was an improvement district not a domestic water district -- until a month ago when the board thinks it isn't any more," said Sam Schwalm. "We're not attorneys, so we don't know, but at least they should get a concurring opinion from the county attorney."

The district's contract attorney, John Gliege, said that despite omitting the word "domestic" from the title of the district, the agency had in all other ways been set up like the sort of district state law allows to run a water company.

As further support, Gliege produced a letter written by the county attorney declining to provide legal advice on the grounds that the district was a water improvement district with an independent board, which seemed to support Gliege's opinion, said Board Chairman Bill Haney.

"It's really complicated," said Haney. "We have the authority to go ahead and condemn and purchase a water company -- the issue is that in theory we wouldn't be able to operate it once we acquired it without going back to the county and getting the status changed. The issue is that there is no such thing as a water improvement district -- either you're a domestic water improvement district or you don't exist. But the only thing that sets us apart is that fact that in the petition (to create the district) they left out the word ‘domestic.'"

Gliege's opinion, the implication of the county attorney's decision not to provide legal advice and a 2001 letter from Brooke Utilities all supported the notion the district meets the requirements of the state statute, said Haney.

The Roundup did not attend the Saturday morning meeting, but interviewed participants afterwards.

The board also heard the most detailed presentation yet on the $250,000, 1,000-foot-deep well drilled in Pine by Realtor Ray Pugel, who maintains the output of his well shows a mostly untapped deep aquifer could supply all of the area's water needs.

Pugel and his 140-gallon per minute deep well have been at the heart of the turmoil that has engulfed the district in the past year.

The district had partnered with Brooke Utilities to drill the K-2 well in Strawberry to reach a deep aquifer. Most wells now supplying water in the community go down no more than about 400 feet. But some geologists argue that a plentiful source of water exists at depths of 600 to 1,000 feet, fed by water that soaked into Rim Country hundreds of years ago and has ever since been trickling through fractured layers of limestone and sandstone.

Pugel maintains that his well demonstrates that there's plenty of water to avoid water hauling and lift the building freeze. Critics have said that the yield from his well is not sustainable and that the water contains too much sand and silt to be effectively used.

So the new board asked for a detailed report on Pugel's well, prepared by geologist Mike Ploughe.

Ploughe said it took three tries to get a drill hole deep enough to hit water at about 620 feet. The water in that deep reservoir was under enough pressure that it rose to about 540 feet in the eight-inch-wide well shaft.

Ploughe pumped water from the well at up to 240 gallons per minute, 24 hours a day for seven days without a significant decline in the well level or a reduction in flows. That demonstrates the well shaft had reached a substantial water table, part of what Ploughe says is a regional aquifer at that depth. Several other wells have hit that same deep water source, he said.

"It appears to me that there is a regional aquifer up there and the fact that the state Department of Water Resources has already issued a 100-year certificate of water adequacy says that they know it's a regional system as well. It definitely is there. The question just becomes, how many more wells would be sufficient to take care of everything -- you might need two or three or four good wells."

Critics have suggested that the well has too much sediment mixed in, but Ploughe said it's similar to domestic water wells in Flagstaff that remove the sand with filters. The well meets all state and federal standards for drinking water, he said.

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