Wed, April 08

County group waits for state response to Paulden development

The state granted a 100-year adequate water supply certificate to the Rancho Cielo development 10 years ago, concluding it has sufficient water to meet the development's demands for 100 years. The state recently concluded that certificate still is valid.

Rancho Cielo, formerly the Headwaters, would have 1,266 home and townhouse sites plus an 18-hole golf course on approximately 700 acres near Paulden. The county government approved the overall plan, then gave the developers the go-ahead to build 158 of those homes on 51 acres.

The project is about a mile from the springs that some scientists believe supply as much as 80 percent of the upper river's flow.

SRP is asking the state to rescind its certificate until the developers prove they have the legal authority to withdraw surface water from their well.

SRP, which owns some of the most senior water rights on that river, contends that the well will draw down the river's flow since it will be located near the headwaters of the river. Verde Valley residents and their county Supervisor Chip Davis have expressed similar concerns.

"I'm not a hydrologist, but I feel pretty strongly that the whole area (around Paulden) contributes to the Verde River," said Water Advisory Committee alternate member Art Coates, a Paulden resident who serves on the committee.

This is an important test case, so the committee should encourage the state to take all the time it needs to make a decision, said Ed McGavock, a Prescott resident who serves on the Governor's Water Management Commission.

It's a test case because it relates to a recent Gila River adjudication court ruling that says a well uses surface water if it is located in the sedimentary rock called alluvium, or if the well's cone of depression intercepts that alluvium.

But the Department of Water Resources hasn't yet developed a standard for the cone of depression test, so it may be unwilling to tackle the Ranch Cielo issue until it comes up with that test.

The court has set a deadline of Dec. 18 for the state's proposal on how to test for the cone of depression, Greg Kornrumph of the Salt River Project informed the county water committee. Those involved in the adjudication then have until Dec. 28 to respond, and the court plans to conduct a hearing sometime during the first half of January.

The water committee will follow Prescott City Council Member Rob Behnke's suggestion to leave this issue on its monthly agenda until the state answers the Salt River Project's protest.

However, the committee doesn't plan to meet next month unless an urgent issue arises.

The committee includes representatives of every municipality in the county, plus a member for each county supervisor district.

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