Sun, Jan. 26

WAC signs off on Big Chino contract

It was somewhat ironic that during the same meeting that they quarreled over the Big Chino pumping issue, Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee members also forged ahead with their biggest-ever Big Chino study.

The Water Advisory Committee (WAC) signed off Wednesday on a $149,300 contract for the first year of a four-year U.S. Geological Survey study. The federal agency also is contributing $30,000.

"This is a quantum leap forward in the discovery of the total water resource," WAC Co-Chair Larry Tarkowski said.

The WAC also approved a bid document for airplane flights that will soon gather aeromagnetic data for the Geological Survey study. In all, WAC members (the county government and its cities and towns) as well as the state will contribute $290,300 to the first year of the study.

"Once again, this is a quantum leap forward," Tarkowski said.

The studies are meant to better quantify how much water is available in the huge Big Chino aquifer north of the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA).

The three communities in the Prescott AMA want to exercise their right under state law to pump Big Chino water south to the AMA. Verde Valley communities and other downstream users, however, want them to wait until the Geological Survey study is completed.

The Big Chino sub-basin encompasses approximately 1,848 square miles, or about 33 percent of the Verde River drainage. Seventy percent of that area is private land. The only community in the sub-basin is Paulden.

A more comprehensive study of historical Big Chino aquifer use also would be helpful, WAC members agreed.

"It is abundantly clear we have no idea how much water was pumped out of the Big Chino in the past," WAC Coordinator John Munderloh said.

The WAC will apply for a $10,000 state grant from the Prescott AMA. The grant would help determine the current and historical Big Chino aquifer water use as far back as the 1940s.

WAC members also talked Wednesday about other ways to protect the Big Chino aquifer. The WAC’s technical administrative committee offered a list of ways.

Ideas for conservation and re-use in the Big Chino area perhaps have the strongest potential, Munderloh said.

Meters on non-residential Big Chino wells that pump more than 35 gallons per minute also would be useful, since officials have no idea how much total water Big Chino users are pumping right now, Munderloh said.

The Prescott AMA’s advisory council is recommending such meters on all major non-residential wells in the upper and middle Verde watershed.

The state already requires major AMA wells to monitor water use with meters, and reimburses their costs with tax credits, former Prescott AMA director Phil Foster said.

Another idea is to prevent the State Land Department from selling land on top of the Big Chino aquifer for development, since 24 percent of the land is state owned.

But Bill Feldmeier, director of the governor’s northern Arizona office, cautioned the WAC against that idea. The State Land Department would have extreme concerns about anyone trying to limit the value of its land, he said.

The county government needs to help the Paulden area come up with a regional growth plan, said Carl Clickner of Verde Water Resource Consultants.

Along with Big Chino residents and users, the county planning department and WAC’s technical administrative committee should meet to talk about more ideas on Big Chino conservation, Tarkowski said.

And the technical advisory committee will expand on the ideas it already has submitted, Munderloh said.

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