Tue, Jan. 28

Stage is set for Verde, <br>Prescott water showdown

It appears that long-standing water issue divisions between the Verde Valley and Prescott tri-cities are surfacing with a vengeance.

Every town and city council in the Verde Valley has approved a resolution against the tri-cities idea for a pipeline to bring water from the Big Chino aquifer south to the Prescott Active Management Area.

Cottonwood, Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Jerome and Sedona councils all approved the resolution. Sedona councilors were the last to do it Tuesday, and like the other communities, they didn’t need to debate it.

"It just sailed right through," Sedona Mayor Alan Everett said. "We even had it on the consent agenda. We didn’t even discuss it."

The resolution asks Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley to wait until Big Chino aquifer studies are completed before they build a pipeline that will bring the aquifer’s groundwater to the tri-cities. The idea for the resolution sprouted from Middle Verde River Basin Planning Group meetings. The region wants to be unified in its response to the Big Chino pumping idea, said county Board of Supervisors Chairman Chip Davis, who represents the Verde Valley.

The councils of all three Prescott-area communities now have agreed to move forward on discussions about the pumping plan. Verde communities have long worried that such pumping will reduce the Verde River’s flow through their communities.

The resolutions have no effect on his goal to move ahead with the pumping as soon as possible, Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger said.

"I respect their concern," Steiger said. "I think it’s valid. But the truth is, the only way we’re going to know the effect of pumping is to pump it."

Verde communities need to understand that Prescott knows it’s illegal and unethical to pump enough water to hurt the river’s flow, Steiger said. There is an amount that can be pumped without negative impact; the tri-cities just have to find out what that amount is, he explained.

And the tri-cities need to do it quickly, because the Phoenix Active Management Area is talking about how it needs groundwater from outside the Valley of the Sun to meet its safe-yield goals, Steiger said. The Phoenix area could try to take away Prescott’s legislative right to pump from the Big Chino, or try to take that water for itself, he said.

All the Verde and Prescott-area communities are members of the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee, and now they’re set for a showdown at the committee’s next meeting Wednesday.

That’s because the Verde Valley is presenting the same anti-pumping resolution at the committee meeting. And the Prescott-area communities are presenting a resolution of their own. So it seems unlikely the committee will reach consensus on either position statement.

"Both sides are kind of polarizing, and that’s too bad because there’s work to be done that has little to do with this issue," said water committee Coordinator John Munderloh, who tries to remain neutral as the water committee’s full-time paid coordinator. That work is to oversee scientific studies and create a regional water management plan, he said.

The Verde resolution notes that the county established the water committee to coordinate efforts to deal with regional water issues, and now the committee is overseeing studies to learn more about how Big Chino pumping would affect the river’s flow.

Waiting for the studies would probably mean waiting until 2004, when the U.S. Geological Survey estimates it will complete the latest study it is proposing. But extra money could speed studies up, said Camp Verde Council Member Tony Gioia, who also co-chairs the water committee.

Either way, that’s too long to wait, Steiger said.

But representative-elect Tom O’Halleran – who lives in the Verde Valley and represented its interests the last time Prescott tried to change state law dealing with its right to use Big Chino water – doesn’t see what the hurry is.

"I would just hope anybody who is bringing legislation out of Yavapai County first goes to the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee," said O’Halleran, who will be the vice chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Any water bill, such as one to create a tri-city water replenishment district, probably would have to go through that committee.

Munderloh said the studies may be completed about the same time as Prescott is ready to pump Big Chino water, anyway.

And the studies should lead to a better understanding of how the Big Chino interacts with the river, he said.

Others throughout the county and state said they are unsure how long it may take to build a pipeline, because the proposal is in such an early stage right now. The Chino Valley Town Council just approved negotiating on the idea Thursday night.

The tri-cities haven’t decided whether they want an intergovernmental agreement, some form of water district, or other method to join and build a pipeline.

Arizona Department of Water Resources officials are still studying the legalities of the various methods, public information officer Jack Lavelle said. Department officials plan to meet with tri-city officials in January to talk about the pipeline issue, he said.

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