WILLIAMS, Ariz. - Since November, Bearizona Wildlife Park has been preparing for a major expansion project by drilling a private well. And in the middle of last month, they achieved their goal by hitting water, although the amount of water available is still uncertain.
With plans for a new gift shop, restaurant and office space that will hopefully be open in May, plus plans for a hotel in the distant future, Bearizona CEO Sean Casey knew he'd have to haul water or develop his own water source to bypass the city's building permit freeze, which has been in place during its yearlong water crisis.
Casey started dirt work for his expansion in August, not knowing the fate of his well. But a few weeks ago, Drill Tech workers - the same company the city of Williams has been using for their well drilling efforts - hit water at 2,900 feet at Bearizona's well site. They kept drilling and found more water at about 3,500 feet.
Currently, Casey hauls water from the city of Williams and Bellemont to serve Bearizona's water needs. Now knowing water is there on site was a relief for Casey.
"If we did not hit water, that restaurant would not be able to be built, because that's the thing that needs it," he said. "Even building the park and building this gift shop, that doesn't stress me out because I know it. But I was stressed about the well, because that's a lot to gamble. But it was going to be very expensive to hook to the city, plus they have their own water problems."
Although things are looking up for the Bearizona well now, the well drilling process did not go completely smoothly. At one point, the drillers lost a drill bit in the hole, which caused a two to three week delay. After attempts to fish out the drill bit were unsuccessful, workers had to pour concrete into the hole and then redrill to bypass the drill bit.
Even though workers are finished drilling the hole, no one knows yet how many gallons per minute the Bearizona well will produce. In a few weeks, the casing for the well will arrive and be installed. Then Drill Tech can put the pump in place and hopefully know by mid April how much water is available. The pump Casey ordered can produce as much as 300 gallons per minute.
If the well produces more than Casey needs for his expansion project, he did not rule out developing some sort of water agreement with the city of Williams. The city is currently trying to fix one non-producing well and drill a new one to ease the highest level of water restrictions, which have been in place since last February. However, Casey said it's too early to know if that would be feasible before getting the pump in place.
"We know we've got at least what we need," Casey said. "I think we'll only need 50 to 100 gallons per minute if we have enough tanks. I just didn't want to hit zero. But we're hoping it's 300 or something."