A 1,500-foot well in Pine drilled with $625,000 in federal stimulus money has struck water — a little deeper than backers had expected.
It’ll take another month before drillers know whether the well can yield the 80 to 200 gallons a minute they hope for, but the existence of the new well could ultimately transform the water supply equation in the chronically water short area.
The still tentative success of the new well is the latest significant development in the area’s quest for a big increase in the water supply, after years of rationing and water hauling.
The tiny Pine Creek Canyon Water Improvement District snagged the federal stimulus grant to drill what amounts to a backup well for Portals IV, which has 83 homeowners and 173 lots.
“We’re somewhat encouraged we’ve got water at the deep level,” said Harry Jones, who runs the small district and applied for the federal money which includes a $312,000 grant and a $312,000, 20-year, 3 percent loan. “But we have no idea how fast it’s flowing into the hole and how long it will last.”
The district applied for the grant mostly to provide backup capacity for the current, 55-gallons-per-minute, 380-foot-deep well that taps into the water table supporting most of the wells in Pine and Strawberry. That shallow well currently provides plenty of water for homeowners in the affluent subdivision.
The new, deep Pine Creek Canyon Well will keep full a 250,000-gallon storage tank that firefighters can use. The new well should refill that storage tank two to four times faster than the existing well. The ability to quickly refill the storage tank could provide critical protection if crews have to repeatedly fill tanker trunks to turn back a forest fire.
The Pine Creek Canyon Well now represents the third time drillers have tapped into a deep water table that promises to alleviate chronic water shortages in a community that has languished for years under the weight of a building moratorium based on the lack of water.
If the new well does produce the 100 or 200 gallons a minute, it would dramatically increase the area’s water supply.
Currently, the network of mostly shallow wells once owned by Brooke Utilities in the new Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District produce about 200 gallons per minute. That water supplies about 3,200 homeowners, but has repeatedly run short in recent years. As a result, the Arizona Corporation Commission had imposed a building moratorium, which left in limbo another 1,300 lots without an existing water hookup.
That chronic shortage and the push to drill a deep well spurred years of controversy that led to the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District’s buyout this fall of Brooke Utilities.
If the Pine Creek Canyon Water Improvement District’s well comes in at the high end of the estimates, the district could in theory sell enough water to the neighboring district to effectively double its current supply.
In the meantime, the Pine Strawberry district has put out the word to private well owners that the district might be interested in buying excess well capacity.
That could include a nearly 1,100-foot-deep well owned by Realtor Ray Pugel. That well stands about a mile away from the Pine Creek Canyon’s well, but apparently taps into the same deep water table — an encouraging indication of the extent of the deeply-buried, water-saturated layer. Pugel’s well produces about 140 gallons per minute, said Jones, although at that output the water contains too much sand — a problem the district would want to solve before buying the well.
The district has also expressed interest in buying water from the third deep well in the area, this one in Strawberry Hollow. That well supplies a small subdivision with 17 houses and 72 lots. Jones said that well provides enough water to supply the subdivision for at least 100 years, which means it may have excess capacity to sell.
In addition, several private well owners have responded to the district’s interest in buying extra wells. Jones said he has no idea whether any of those wells will provide extra capacity at an affordable price for the district, but noted they’re all likely to tap into the already overtaxed shallow water table.
Jones said he didn’t want to get anyone’s hopes up about the actual output of the Pine Creek Canyon deep well, despite the early, encouraging signs.
“Even if we could pump 100 gallons a minute out of this well, we don’t have any idea whether we could sustain that for 20 hours or 13 years,” said Jones. “We haven’t done the development and testing of the well. We need to go to a seven-day test where we run it 24 hours a day for seven days and see how sustainable it is.”