Officials from Farmers Investment Company (FICO), which operates these pecan groves in Sahuarita, are worried that any water recharged into the ground would raise the water table and damage the trees’ roots.

Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily Star 2007

Farmers Investment Co., whose Sahuarita pecan groves have drawn down the aquifer for decades, is now concerned that a proposed neighboring groundwater recharge facility could kill some of its trees by raising the water table.

Based on its reading of Community Water Co.’s application to the state, FICO is concerned that Central Arizona Project water recharged into the ground at the Community Water site could harm, if not kill, the trees on FICO’s pecan orchard lying immediately to the north.

“Pecan trees cannot tolerate shallow groundwater and would be immediately harmed if shallow groundwater conditions resulted from recharge” at Community Water’s site, wrote Scott Deeny, a FICO attorney from Phoenix, in a letter last month to the Arizona Department of Water Resources raising an objection to Community Water’s application to build recharge basins to store CAP water.

There’s irony in FICO’s concerns, given its history of pumping out the water table, said Nancy Freeman, a Green Valley activist who has been a critic of both FICO and Rosemont Copper, which would be an ultimate user of the Community Water recharge facility.

“We need water down here, and that’s the bottom line,” said Freeman, who doesn’t favor bringing CAP water to that area — because of its poor quality — but emphasizes, “We do need the water.”

FICO, however, said through a spokesman that all it’s seeking is for Community Water to monitor its recharging’s impacts. Community Water’s consultants identified the presence of a confined, “perched” aquifer existing below the planned recharge pits, whose water wouldn’t easily seep into the underlying, deeper aquifer, FICO’s objection said.

The pecan company worries that any water recharged into the ground would sit there and raise the water table to as little as 8 feet from the surface.

Community Water concluded in its application that this perched aquifer doesn’t actually extend north to the pecan groves. But Community Water consultant Raul Piña said the company is willing to install a monitoring well if necessary.

“This is a legitimate concern. We are going to address that the right way, that makes everyone happy,” Piña said last week. “We have computer models that show where the water level is, so OK, what do we need to do to monitor the water level so if the water level starts rising under the trees, we can stop.”

The antipathy of FICO executives Dick and Nan Walden to the Rosemont Mine is longstanding; they’re worried that the recharge project will never make up for all of Rosemont’s groundwater pumping. But an official with the Texas Pecan Growers Association indicated last week that a concern about high water tables for pecan trees is real.

“Pecans like a lot of water, but they need well drained soil,” said Blair Krebs, the Texas group’s associate sales and marketing director. “If the roots are underwater for awhile, it can kill the tree and it has killed trees before.”