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Sun, Jan. 26

State report gets mixed reviews for effect on local well users

Right now, well water is free. But if the court determines that it's surface water, well owners could have to file for junior water rights or purchase more senior rights.

Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis worries that the report could hurt rural residential well owners.

"Actually, I think it's worse than we anticipated, looking at the maps," Davis said. "It shows a profound effect on Yavapai County."

Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee Coordinator John Munderloh said after a cursory reading that ADWR's recommendations for "de minimis" uses looks good for this county's smallest well users, but its recommended "cone of depression" test could cause problems for larger wells such as those that water companies and municipalities own.

In Yavapai County, Verde Valley wells face the most profound potential negative impacts from the Gila River System adjudication process, because it has so many wells near the Verde River.

But the judge's future choices also could hurt others, Munderloh said – municipal providers in the Prescott Active Management Area, well owners in the Mayer area near Big Bug Creek, or well owners in the Humboldt and Black Canyon City areas near the Agua Fria River.

Other local officials including the co-chairs of the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee haven't had a chance to read the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) report thoroughly yet.

The adjudication case has been ongoing for decades, so the final word on the impacts to well users could be years away.

ADWR submitted its report to the court Monday. The public can access the report on ADWR's Web site, and ADWR hopes to have copies for review at public libraries by the end of this week.

Other parties involved in the Gila River System adjudication case have until May 13 to comment in response to the ADWR report.

The Yavapai County government and Verde Valley municipalities have joined forces to hire technical experts to help them with a response.

Davis, whose supervisor district covers the Verde Valley, said his initial take on the de minimis definition isn't good for rural residents.

"Most rural folks have a yard or garden that entails more than two-tenths of an acre," Davis said. That means they wouldn't be excluded from the adjudication process if the court likes the ADWR standard.

Currently, domestic well users can pump as much as 35 gallons per minute, which translates into 57 acre-feet annually. That's 57 times more than ADWR's recommendation for de minimis uses that would be excluded from the adjudication process.

How would the state estimate how much residents are pumping? ADWR probably would use a variety of information such as its records, adjudication statements of claimants, LandSat images, remote sensing, etc., Lavelle said.

Prescott Active Management Area analysis of local use has estimated that most residential wells in the Prescott tri-city area pump between one-fourth and one-third of an acre-foot annually, PrAMA Director Jim Holt said.

So most of the PrAMA's approximately 7,000 wells could be exempt from the Gila River System adjudication process and not need any surface water rights, if the court agrees to ADWR's proposal, Holt said.

"If that ends up going through, that could be helpful to a lot of people," Holt said.

Leaving out smaller users would speed up the long-running adjudication process, the ADWR report noted.

Currently, the court is ordering domestic well owners to file a statement of claim in the Gila adjudication case and pay $20.

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