Is Arizona Running Out of Water?

AZ Central (August 13, 2019) by Rich Leveille

To experience the state’s groundwater threat in the flesh, one only needs to hike the Arizona Trail.

Arizona’s landscape has made me keenly aware of how water can impact rock, soil and life. In a matter of minutes, a desert rain shower can transform the black, desiccated, inorganic-looking crust on otherwise naked rock into a plush cushion of velvety green upholstery.

Last winter’s exceptional rains metamorphosed the surface of the Superstition Mountains from parched stubble into an exuberant wildflower garden, tragically sowing the seeds of its own destruction a few dry months later in the Woodbury Fire.

As a geologist, I look even further into the dark, rock-recorded mirror of the past, and see that for much of its history, the state was covered by inland seas. The uplifted rocks laid down in those seas are being worn down again, mostly by the action of water.

They are sculpted and polished into beautiful forms then, ultimately, planed off.

The products of this attack by water are sand and gravel washing down from the mountains and filling the valleys between them. These sediments, in turn, host groundwater in the cumulative volume of pore spaces between individual grains.

The over-exploitation of groundwater resources and the resultant decreased stream flows, documented by a University of Arizona study, should flash a yellow “caution” light for those concerned with the future habitability of the state.

To experience this threat in the flesh, do a hike where you depend on surface water to drink, as I did two years ago, on a through-hike of the Arizona Trail. You’ll be dismayed by the number of springs marked on topographic maps that are bone dry.

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