Water group agrees to stay together despite divisive pumping issue
PRESCOTT VALLEY – A potentially divisive discussion about Big Chino aquifer pumping drew dozens of political onlookers Wednesday to the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee meeting.
They included two county supervisors, Chip Davis and John Olsen; the director of the governor’s northern Arizona office, Bill Feldmeier, who also is a former county supervisor; three Arizona Department of Water Resources officials; former Prescott Mayor Paul Daly and former Prescott city manager Mark Stevens, who now serves on a water study commission created by the governor.
State Sen. Ken Bennett and former committee member Lucy Mason came to urge the committee not to let the Big Chino pumping issue divide the group the same way their communities are divided by Mingus Mountain.
Others are sidetracking the committee, Mason said, in an obvious reference to Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger and Davis, whose district covers the Verde Valley.
"You’ve got a fella on one side of the hill using his acid wit as a seek-and-destroy missile, and you’ve got a fellow on the other side of the hill using fear," said Mason, who resigned from her Prescott City Council position last year to run for the state Legislature.
Everyone appeared calm during the 50-minute discussion – calmer than the previous two committee meetings, when Verde officials had just heard that Steiger, and then the entire Prescott City Council, wanted to move ahead on the pumping plan.
However, several people said it’s unlikely the committee, which will reach consensus on whether the Prescott area should wait until related studies are complete before it pumps from the plentiful Paulden-area aquifer to augment the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) water supplies.
The Verde Valley communities led by committee Co-Chair Tony Gioia presented a position paper that asks the AMA to wait. The city and town councils of all those communities recently approved a resolution that says the same thing.
Co-Chair Larry Tarkowski, the Prescott Valley Public Works director, presented an opposing position paper for the committee to consider, However, he said he’s not suggesting the committee take a position.
"To go ahead and try to bring this group to consensus on that issue … I do believe that will not work," Tarkowski said.
"I agree with you there," said committee member Anita MacFarlane, a Sedona council member.
The answer to whether the committee can reach consensus won’t come until the committee’s next meeting Jan. 17, because Tarkowski cut off the meeting shortly after 4 p.m. He said the committee should stick to a 2 to 4 p.m. time schedule in the future.
While they might not agree on the pumping issue, committee members did agree that the committee is a valuable organization that allows the two sides to talk things out. The committee represents the first time in the county’s history that representatives from all over the county sit at a table each month and try to reach a consensus, rural Verde Valley member Andy Groseta said.
Two years ago when the Verde and AMA were at each others’ throats over the Big Chino issue, "We would have been throwing bombs at each other" during this discussion, Bennett said. That divisiveness led to formation of the committee, which gives the two sides a forum to talk reasonably, he said.
"Let’s stay together and stay on course," said Bennett, who was the original chair of the committee.
The committee also represents a way for this county to stay united against other threats, some members said.
"What I would hate to see is a wedge driven in this group," Prescott City Council Member Rob Behnke said. "We have to show some unity … Phoenix is looking north, and that’s the real world."
Olsen and Chino Valley water consultant Phil Foster said the pumping would be a study in itself, and even if they push forward on the plan, it will be years before the pumping actually begins.
"We need to keep calm on these issues until we have a better definition of what’s going to happen in the future," Olsen said. More pumping in the AMA’s Little Chino aquifer probably will have the same effect as pumping in the Big Chino anyway, he said.
When he asked U.S. Geological Survey scientist Mary Woodhouse if future studies would quantify how much water the AMA could safely pump from the Big Chino, she said no, Foster related.
"Pumping the Big Chino is a scientific approach to answering that question," said Foster, recently retired director of the AMA.
Agricultural pumping in the Big Chino has doubled, so the committee should focus on discussing an irrigation non-expansion area instead of AMA pumping, Chino Town Council Member Russ St. Pierre said.
But Verde Valley officials including Clarkdale Town Council Member David Leibforth pointed out that the county supervisors formed the committee so it could come up with a regional water management plan, instead of the Prescott AMA creating a unilateral plan.
"The management plan I thought was supposed to come from all of us," Jerome Town Council Member Doree Christensen said. The Verde Valley position paper "doesn’t say ‘no pumping ever,’ it says ‘let’s not put the cart before the horse.’"
Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger’s reaction to the Verde Valley communities’ resolution was "so what," Clarkdale Mayor Andy Vircsik noted. The committee should take a position on the pumping, and the AMA should listen to what it has to say, he said.
Bennett produced rare laughter during the meeting by telling a joke about what water and sex have in common in Arizona: everybody talks about water and sex, and everybody worries that somebody else is getting more than their fair share.
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