1/31/2014 8:28:00 AM Prescott-area water plan nears completion
Ducks enjoy a recent warm winter day on Granite Creek in downtown Prescott. The Arizona Department of Water Resourcesí new draft plan suggests ways to reduce groundwater consumption in the Prescott region.
Photo courtesy Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Arizona Department of Water Resources officials on Wednesday described some of the changes they have made to their new draft plan that offers ways to reduce groundwater consumption in the Prescott region.
The Prescott AMA's Groundwater Users Advisory Council (GUAC) gave its stamp of approval to the plan Wednesday. GUAC members are long-time local water expert John Olsen, former Prescott water resources director Jim Holt, and Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski.
It's called the 4th Management Plan because it's supposed to be the fourth 10-year plan for the 385-square-mile Prescott Active Management Area (AMA), which has been depleting its groundwater supplies at least since 1999.
ADWR is tentatively planning a public hearing about the final draft plan in April, then hopes to make the plan go into effect in November. However the conservation requirements wouldn't go into effect until 2017, or seven years late, so they would be in effect for only three years. ADWR director of AMAs Jeff Tannler cited inadequate staffing levels as the reason.
ADWR officials said they'd welcome ideas for population growth scenarios to use when analyzing future groundwater impacts with computer modeling techniques. That's a good way to problem solve, ADWR Planning and Data Management Supervisor Pam Muse said.
While acknowledging that the plan contains lots of ideas about how the Prescott AMA can stop depleting its groundwater supplies (aka reach "safe yield") by the state's goal of 2025, Citizens Water Advocacy Group member Howard Mechanic urged the GUAC to take the lead on turning the ideas into a concrete plan.
"It doesn't become a plan until the communities lay out what they will do," CWAG member John Zambrano said.
"It is a safe yield plan," countered Prescott Water Resources Specialist Leslie Graser. "It may not have the details we need at this time."
Tarkowski also said the plan amounts to a plan to reach safe yield.
"This document shows safe yield is something attainable in the Prescott Active Management Area," Tarkowski said.
The plan concludes that in order to reach safe yield, Prescott will have to follow through with its controversial plan to import groundwater from the neighboring Big Chino Aquifer. That has generated concerns from others because scientists say the Big Chino provides at least 80 percent of the baseflow for the Upper Verde River.
Local water engineer Doug McMillan called for a plan to mitigate the Big Chino pipeline so it doesn't hurt the river.
"Ten years have gone by, and there's not even any mention of what that mitigation is," he said.
ADWR officials responded that listing Big Chino mitigation strategies is "outside the scope" of the management plan.
McMillan has been an advocate for large-scale rainwater harvesting to capture water that otherwise would evaporate or be used by plants, saying 98 percent of rainfall is lost that way.
He wanted the ADWR plan to advocate that method more, estimating it could put another 4,200 acre-feet of water into the depleted Little Chino Aquifer each year.
"We have an opportunity to really grab onto something here, and it's being thrown out for reasons I can't understand," he said, also citing the lack of a formation of a legislative study committee as mandated under a successful bill sponsored by Rep. Karen Fann of Prescott.
Mechanic also urged ADWR to list what the annual aquifer depletion rate could become without strong action to avoid it.
Graser reiterated her written request for ADWR to separate residential well water use from municipal water provider use in the plan, since residential wells are exempt from all the state regulations. The plan also should discuss issues surrounding exempt wells, she said.
Chino Valley Mayor Chris Marley sent a strong letter to ADWR opposing metering, taxation or restrictions on residential wells, calling it "harassment."
Most of Chino's residents use their own wells, which are exempt under state law from the conservation re-quirements and groundwater use restrictions put on Prescott and Prescott Valley residents that have municipal providers.