Prescott unveils pumping <br>plan for Big Chino aquifer

Prescott has unveiled a draft of its plan to prevent negative effects from its proposed Big Chino aquifer pumping.

Prescott Environmental Services Director Brad Huza outlined the mitigation plan for the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee.

The plan seeks to ensure that the Verde River flow doesn't dwindle when the city starts pumping Big Chino water south to supplement its overused, smaller Little Chino aquifer.

It was no surprise that some Verde Valley members of the water committee criticized the plan.

Verde elected officials oppose the whole pumping idea in general, worried that pumping from the aquifer at the Verde River's headwaters will reduce the flow of the river through their downstream communities.

"I didn't expect to walk in here and see open arms and have you guys say, 'Yeah, this is a neat idea,'" Huza said.

The most critical person in the audience was Hjalmar Hjalmarson, a Camp Verde scientist who co-authored a study that concluded the Big Chino supplies the river with 80 percent of its flow.

"Your science sucks; I understand your politics," Hjalmarson told Huza.

Committee member Rennie Radoccia, a Clarkdale Town Council member, also repeatedly expressed displeasure with the draft plan.

"I've been opposed to this from day one," Radoccia said.

Hjalmarson said the plan is made up of "wild ideas."

It does appear to contain lots of sketchy information and lots of loopholes, said committee member Doree Christensen, a Jerome Town Council member.

Committee members had said they wanted to keep up with details of the plan. It's only a rough draft right now, and Prescott is open to others' ideas, Huza said.

"This is just a skeleton – we're still putting the flesh on these bones," he said. "I'm not here today to seek buy-in."

The Paulden area atop the Big Chino aquifer is ripe for development, Huza said.

"If it's not Prescott, it's going to be somebody else," Huza said. "There's a whole lot of land out there that's going to use a whole lot more than 9,000 acre feet," the annual amount that Prescott wants to pump initially to supplement its Little Chino aquifer water supply.

Paulden resident Ron Vennell wondered how Prescott plans to mitigate any negative effects on residents in that area.

Prescott could buy Paulden-area irrigation rights to reduce the water use within the Big Chino, said Chino Valley water consultant Phil Foster.

It also could buy 18,000 acres in the Big Chino area, Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis said.

Someday, a central water system will serve Paulden-area residents, Huza predicted.

"That's a very dangerous statement," Radoccia replied.

"It's a very expensive statement," Vennell added.

The county government needs to be involved in the mitigation plan process, since officials may have to figure out how to keep the Paulden area itself from reducing the river's flow as more and more people move there, Huza said.

Prescott's Big Chino water plan

Here is a basic outline of Prescott's draft mitigation plan for pumping Big Chino aquifer water:

• Initially, Prescott and potential municipal partners would pump 9,000 acre feet of the 14,000 acre feet that state law allows.

• Half of the amount of water the city takes from the Big Chino would go into a storage vessel in the Granite Creek Basin, in the form of recycled wastewater (effluent). This would take place for 10 years or longer.

• If the pumping is reducing the flow of the river, the city will augment the river's flow with water from Granite Creek Basin wells.

Before the city starts pumping water, it needs to:

• Verify the amount of water that recharges into the Big Chino aquifer each year.

• Find out the size of a huge clay plug in the Big Chino. At least hundreds of feet deep, it may divide the Big Chino into two basins, or even block Big Chino water from flowing into the Verde River, Prescott Environmental Services Director Brad Huza said. Its size and location will help the city determine where to put its wells.

• Conduct a study to find the best site for the effluent water storage facility in the Granite Creek Basin.

• Inventory past, present and future water uses in the Big Chino, and establish a Big Chino water use monitoring plan.

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