PINETOP-LAKESIDE – Appearing before the Pinetop-Lakeside Town Council on April 21, James Fawcett, an eighth-grade student at Blue Ridge Junior High, presented the 4-H Engineering and Physics Club’s submission it entered for the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow contest.
Fawcett said the club’s subject for the contest and school year project focused on the club’s efforts toward the conservation, preservation and restoration of the community’s natural resources. The students’ subject for the project stemmed from questions as to why Woodland Lake had no water in it.
“This one single question led us down the rabbit hole of the many problems with our natural resources such as dry springs, algae blooms, surface water quality issues, declining groundwater levels, and that is just a small example of the ongoing problems in our community,” said Fawcett.
The club identified watersheds, precipitation, stream flow and groundwater as the key issues to work on. Although not all of the problems the club identified are problems in the PTLS area, its research revealed the obvious — that when someone upstream from this area pollutes it affects this area just as if pollution from this area affects communities downstream.
The club decided its focus for the contest would be three-fold – raising awareness, getting a better understanding of the various problems and applying solutions.
Looking at watershed health, the group viewed a U.S. Forest Service (USFS) map that revealed that the flow direction of water in the PTLS area falls under the category of at-risk. The at-risk designation means if local residents do not start implementing measures to reduce pollutants and preserve, restore and protect natural resources, the watershed could stop functioning properly.
With a local economy that is boosted by tourism due to lakes, fishing and hunting, should the watershed health be compromised the economy would be affected. Fawcett said these impacts have already affected some area lakes. Rainbow Lake has an exceedance of pH nitrates and phosphorus that leads to excessive aquatic plants and algae. Scott Reservoir has high mercury levels and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) has already recommended that adults and children limit consumption of fish from the reservoir.
A graph of precipitation at the Arizona Game & Fish Department (AZGFD) station, the only U.S. Geological (USGS) stream gauge locally, showed that the intensity and frequency of the discharge of the stream flow in this area is decreasing and the amount of local water is also decreasing.
Fawcett displayed a groundwater map showing the wells drilled and permitted in the community that the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) monitors. It identified the two aquifers in the area – the shallow Pinetop-Lakeside aquifer and the deeper Coconino aquifer. The water level in the wells in the PTLS aquifer are declining, a factor that is likely in the spring water flow that is decreasing or ceasing altogether, thus affecting public supply and domestic supply wells in the PTLS aquifer.
“We have heard of shallow wells going dry, but have not surveyed or quantified how many,” he said.
Displaying a graph of one of the supply wells in the Coconino aquifer that shows the water levels are steady is good for a secure water future, but Fawcett said that as the people using the shallow aquifer begin to deepen wells or connect to community supply wells that are in the Coconino, the area could begin to see declining water levels there.
“Although things appear to be going in the wrong direction in our watershed, there is hope,” said Fawcett. “We are fighting for a better future by identifying issues and formulating a plan.”
Fawcett said that during this year the club has focused on and learned:
- How to take water level measurements
- Ways to find important data
- How to graph in Excel and interpret trends
- Have built board sensors and is currently programming them (an inexpensive way to monitor surface water and to alert the club if the nutrient levels in local streams are too high)
- Brought in experts to help with understanding the various issues in the community and ways to resolve them
- Branded its project and turned it into a message to fight for the community’s natural resources
Working with the town of PTLS, Fawcett said the students are actively in the process of starting up a surface water and weather station site at the covered bridge at Woodland Lake Park that will provide real time telemetry that will monitor temperature, precipitation and discharge of Walnut Creek. And, due to a donation from geotech Environmental Equipment and In-Situ, they will also be able to monitor the pH of conductivity, temperature and dissolved oxygen of the water coming in from Walnut Creek.
Fawcett particularly acknowledged project assistance from Blue Ridge Elementary Club advisor Kevin Woolridge; project advisor Sara Chudnoff; PTLS’ Annie DeRosier who helped with the branding of the project as well as with logos for the Eco Spartans; PTLS Public Works Director Matt Patterson; AZGFD’s Dan Groebner who helped him with the presentation; and USFS’ John Rihs who also helped with the presentation and the navigation of research on the watershed.
The eighth-grade Fawcett, who was professionally dressed and delivered a flawless presentation, closed by saying, “I believe that we can come together to preserve, protect and conserve these wonderful resources for your generation, my generation and the next generation to come.”
Chudnoff, a hydrogeologist and registered professional geologist, also addressed the council.
“I am excited to get this monitoring site up at Woodland. I think it is really cool to have that real-time telemetry and another weather station in our community. I look forward to exploring more of the issues and ways we can resolve these.”