Huge Pinal County fissure draws concern

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(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(3TV/CBS 5) -

Opinions vary on how a nearly 2-mile fissure was created in a rural part of southern Pinal County.

Geologists with the Arizona Geological Survey (AZGS) say Google imagery detected the huge hole in December, but information suggests it was likely created in 2014.

"We have hundreds of miles of fissures that have developed in Arizona over the past 70 to 80 years and they certainly are a cause for concern," said geologist Mike Conway.

According to Conway, the fissure is a concern for law enforcement, cattle ranchers and those who off-road in the area. The fissure is up to 30 feet deep and 10 to 15 feet wide.

"We've seen the skeleton of livestock in these things," Conway said. "We saw plenty of signs of people doing quads or four-wheeling. Anyone could come up on this in twilight and never see it because it's difficult to spot. It would be a pretty bad accident."

The AZGS believes the fissure is the result of groundwater pumping from agricultural fields.

"That's being pumped out of the aquifer below our feet and as it does so, the basin begins to subside and along the edges of the basins, that's where we see the earth fissures develop," Conway said.

"If we continue pumping groundwater at the same rate, we anticipate seeing more fresh fissures just like this one," he said.

"It's probably just a natural phenomenon," said Richie Kennedy, a third-generation farmer.

Kennedy said they aren't to blame.

"No, in reality the Arizona farmer is probably using 90 percent less water than we have traditionally," he said.

Kennedy, who grows alfalfa and greens, said most farmers rely on the Central Arizona Project canal system for their water, not ground pumping.

"There’s probably less fissures in Arizona because the farmers have been such stewards of the water they've been allocated," Kennedy said.

Despite different views on the source, Conway calls fissures the new normal in the Sonoran Desert.

"The lands here are very fertile, but they require a lot of water," he said. "There's a price to be paid and that price is we see basin subsidence and earth fissures develop."

A spokesperson from the Sierra Club Grand Chapter agrees with geologists that groundwater pumping is the source of the fissure.

The group says it's time for the state to focus on growing crops that require less water and to explore limits on groundwater use. Any substantial rules haven't been passed since the 1980's.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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