Nothing short of Mingus Mountain has ever created a divide between the Verde Valley and the Prescott communities quite like the great water war of the 1990s.
It began with the announcement that Prescott planned to tap into the Big Chino Aquifer and build a water pipeline to Prescott to serve the region’s domestic water needs.
The response from the Verde Valley was that this plan amounted to an outright theft of the water supply that ultimately serves as the headwaters to the Verde River.
The folks in Prescott were going to steal our water.
That was the rhetoric, anyway, and a lot of the claims that came from this side of the mountain were of the knee-jerk variety without the benefit of an absolute hydrogeologic understanding of the issue, or the water rights involved. Never had Mark Twain’s words about whiskey being for drinking and water for fighting rang more true.
In fact, to a large degree, Verde-Prescott water politics played a huge role in the reshuffling of legislative representation in the Verde Valley during the last round of redistricting. Many locals claimed the Verde would get better advocacy on water and river-protection issues by splitting from Legislative District 1.
We “won” and are now in Legislative District 6.
Our split from Prescott ultimately left Yavapai County with a somewhat fractured collective voice at the State Capitol.
There is no doubt, however, that the “Great Prescott-Verde Water War” did ultimately benefit the Verde Valley. Organizations such as Friends of the Verde River and the Verde River Institute came into being.
Local river advocacy now is backed up by research, science and facts vs. emotional jargon. We have legitimate voices of authority when it comes to the politics of water use and appropriation in the Verde Valley.
Most interestingly now, some 20 years after those lines were drawn between Prescott and the Verde Valley, it turns out the Chino Water Pipeline isn’t as big a threat to the Verde River as once believed.
This past week, Daily Courier veteran reporter Cindy Barks wrote that Prescott leaders now say the importation of water from the Paulden aquifer might not be as pressing as originally thought.
A report on Prescott’s water portfolio shows the city is “in really good shape,” the Daily Courier story states. Municipal water conservation policies combined with aquifer recharge with water from Willow and Watson lakes has resulted in a decline of 143 acre-feet per year in Prescott, which is about 2 percent per year over the last 14 years. All during a period of time when the populations of both Prescott and Prescott Valley have grown steadily.
The Big Chino water pipeline is viewed now more as an insurance policy for the Prescott communities than a pressing need.
The “threat” is now hardly as imposing as once was believed.
Which means there is probably no better time than now for the leaders of the Prescott communities and the Verde Valley to work cooperatively toward a region-wide water-use policy agreement.
Ultimately, we’re all drinking from the same well. The wise course is to make sure there will always be plenty to go around.