Sat, March 28

Good news, bad news flows at water forum

People who attended a citizen-organized water forum last week heard a lot of bad news – the Prescott area is depleting its groundwater supply, well levels are dropping, and the region is facing a continued protracted drought.

But they also heard some good news – studies are helping the region understand the extent of the local groundwater system, some bills in the next state legislative session seek to help manage water better, the courts are working toward more realistic water laws, and a countywide water group is working cooperatively on a water management plan.

And, local citizens are interested in the issue, judging by the attendance of more than 200 people at the first Tri-City Water Forum.

The relatively new Citizens Water Advocacy Group organized the forum at the Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott. Co-sponsors were the League of Women Voters of Yavapai County and the Verde Watershed Association.

People learned about the science of water in the morning, then about its management in the afternoon, CWAG President Kay Lauster noted.

Water is the most critical resource issue that local residents and their children face, forum speaker Mindy Schlimgen-Wilson said.

“Unlimited growth with a limited resource is clearly going to be a problem for us, so I think there’s going to have to be some discussion about restrictions on growth,” Prescott Active Management Director Jim Holt said.

Two U.S. Geological Survey scientists working on studies of the upper Verde River Basin, Vicki Langenheim and John Hoffman, opened the forum by helping people understand how the groundwater basin works.

Retired USGS hydrologist Ed McGavock then offered a comprehensive review of previous studies relating to the controversial Big Chino Sub-basin that Prescott plans to use to augment its water supply.

The studies didn’t always come to the same conclusions, he noted, but they do agree that the Big Chino is a substantial groundwater resource, and most believe it is the major source of base flow in the upper Verde River.

The weather isn’t exactly cooperating with efforts to increase local water supplies, the audience learned from Embry Riddle Meteorology Chair Mark Sinclair and George Howard of the National Weather Service.

Prescott’s average temperature has increased by seven degrees over the last 90 years, and that’s not good news for aquifers that depend on snowpack, Sinclair said. Winter precipitation in general has declined here, too.

This area has seen drier-than-normal weather since 1994 and is behind by 40 inches of average precipitation during the last decade.

Forecasters predict stronger La Niña effects on Arizona in coming years. That periodic Pacific Ocean cooling brings drier weather to Arizona.

The outlook through January is for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation, Howard said.

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