Sun, April 05

Tri-cities, Verde Valley<br>agree to disagree, kinda

It was no surprise to anyone.

The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee didn’t reach a consensus Wednesday on whether the Prescott Active Management Area communities should wait on pumping water from the neighboring Big Chino aquifer until WAC-sponsored studies are complete.

The studies are meant to help shed light on how the pumping around Paulden would affect the flow of the Verde River downstream through the Verde Valley and below.

Verde Valley communities on the WAC want the AMA to wait; the tri-cities in the AMA don’t want to wait. The two sides have been talking about the issue at their past three monthly WAC meetings.

WAC co-chairmen Tony Gioia, a Camp Verde Town Council member, and Larry Tarkowski, Prescott Valley’s Public Works director, re-offered competing position papers for the WAC to consider Wednesday.

Gioia, who chairs the gatherings when WAC meets in the Verde Valley every other month, set the tone at the start.

"We’re all aware we’re not likely to reach a consensus on this issue," Gioia said.

However, if someone wants to comment on the issue, go ahead, he said.

Jerome Town Council Member Doree Christensen noted how earlier in the meeting, WAC members had reviewed a grant application that said the WAC is a consensus group. WAC’s own appplication calls WAC a cooperative effort that provides a pro-active approach to the divisive issue of water, and seeks long-term solutions by conducting studies of the upper and middle Verde River systems.

"I would like to see that happen on this pumping issue," Christensen said. However, it won’t happen with the current Prescott stance, she said.

But the two sides of the mountain actually do agree on the issue, Tarkowski said.

"If you want to gain consensus, then you look at what has been agreed to," Tarkowski said.

Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley officials all have agreed to make sure the pumping doesn’t reduce the Verde River’s flow, he said.

"If we are around this table to protect the base flows of the Verde River, you have that commitment," Tarkowski said.

But the Verde Valley communities also want the AMA communities to wait until the studies are complete, Clarkdale Town Council Member Rennie Radoccia said.

"That’s the foundation (WAC) has been built on," he added.

But the bottom line is protection of the river’s flow, Tarkowski repeated.

"But you’re missing the point," Radoccia countered. "It’s more than just that bottom line, it’s the method."

Cottonwood Mayor Ruben Jauregui asked WAC Coordinator John Munderloh to read a letter that the Salt River Project (SRP) sent the tri-city mayors last week. Two SRP officials were in the audience, water rights and contracts manager Dave Roberts and his senior analyst Greg Kornrumph.

SRP’s letter parallels the Verde Valley’s thoughts, Jauregui noted. The letter says SRP also wants the AMA communities to let the studies be completed before pumping from the Big Chino.

Roberts later confirmed that SRP would like to sign off on the tri-cities pumping mitigation plan, and yes, SRP is ready to sue the tri-cities over the issue.

However, he also tended to agree with Prescott Mayor Sam Steiger’s recent comments that SRP probably would have to wait until the river’s flow is reduced before it could sue. And Steiger says that won’t happen.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources agrees that the AMA has every right to go ahead and pump from the Big Chino, said Chino Valley consultant Phil Foster, the department’s former Prescott AMA director. The department will put that in writing, he added.

Gioia asked for a copy of the department’s position, and he also asked the Prescott AMA communities to put their commitment in writing.

Clarkdale Mayor Andy Vircsik asked if the Prescott AMA communties have calculated the base flow of the river, since they say they will protect that amount of flow. Tarkowski responded no.

AMA city and town officials already are discussing how to mitigate the impacts of the pumping, Prescott City Council Member Dick Behnke said.

Earlier during Wednesday’s meeting at Sedona City Hall, WAC members agreed they also will investigate various strategies to protect the groundwater in the Big Chino aquifer.

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