Mon, Jan. 20

Governor signs Big Chino legislation

Gov. Janet Brewer has signed legislation that changes state law governing Prescott's right to use Big Chino Aquifer groundwater.

Brewer signed Senate Bill 1445 into law on Monday.

"This is another milestone in our new partnership with Prescott and Prescott Valley as we work together to protect the Verde River," said Jeff Lane, spokesperson for the Salt River Project (SRP).

The legislation stems from a written agreement between Prescott, Prescott Valley and SRP to try to cooperate on Big Chino issues instead of fighting in courts.

"We could go on for years litigating this issue, and in the end we wouldn't have an answer about the (Upper Verde River) impacts" from Prescott's Big Chino pumping, said Greg Kornrumph, a principal analyst for SRP's Water Rights and Contracts Division.

Controversy over the Prescott-area plans to use Big Chino water stems from the fact that scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies at least 80 percent of the base flow for the Upper Verde River. SRP has senior water rights on the Verde for its Phoenix-area customers.

"I think we're in a new era of cooperation with them (SRP)," said Arizona Senate Majority Whip Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, who sponsored SB1445. "Now we've got to continue to look for ways to conserve water and look for new sources." Future sustainable sources could include desalinated ocean water trades with California or Mexico, he said.

Pierce is especially optimistic about working with SRP President-Elect David Rousseau, since he has known Rousseau for decades. Their parents all farmed in the Valley of the Sun, and Pierce noted that Rousseau and his brother even raised carrots on leased Big Chino Valley land at one time.

"He tries to look at the big picture, and knows we all have to get along and we're all in the same boat," Pierce said of Rousseau.

Coincidentally, Pierce and Rousseau will speak in Prescott Valley Friday about the status of negotiations between SRP, Prescott and Prescott Valley. That event takes place at 7:30-9 a.m. Friday at the StoneRidge Golf Club. Call (928) 458-5361 for reservations.

Pierce's legislation fulfills only part of the agreement that the three entities signed earlier this year.

"We'll continue to move toward our goal as we meet with our counterparts from those communities while we work to finalize the details of our agreement," Lane said.

The public and other stakeholders will be more involved in the process in the future, Kornrumph said.

"When we start talking about bigger basin issues, that will be a pretty big stakeholder process," Kornrumph said.

Pierce said he'd also like to help SRP and Verde Valley water users cooperate on Verde River issues.

"That's the primary reason I'm down here, is to help communities" in Legislative District 1, he said.

The newly signed Senate Bill 1445 makes several changes to a 1991 law in Arizona Revised Statute 45-555(E).

That law gives Prescott an exception to the 1980 Groundwater Code that generally prohibits transfer of groundwater from one basin to another, by allowing Prescott to use Big Chino water.

The Prescott region depends heavily on groundwater and the state has prohibited it from using its own groundwater from new development, since the region is depleting its own aquifer.

Components of the new law include:

• The Prescott Active Management Area (PrAMA) maximum annual allocation of Big Chino groundwater changes from "up to" 14,000 acre-feet to 8,068 af, which is the amount that the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) concluded Prescott has a right to pump.

• Allows the PrAMA to pump more water if it is for an Indian tribe in the PrAMA. Currently only the Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe has a reservation in the PrAMA and Prescott is its water provider.

• States that any PrAMA municipality can use the Big Chino groundwater under this statute if it meets two criteria. Prescott is the only municipality that meets the criteria and others would be hard-pressed to do so.

• Clarifies that Big Chino water imported to the PrAMA is exempt from state well spacing criteria. That criteria requires the state to conclude the well won't damage surrounding land or water users before issuing a well digging permit.

• States that it is permissible to move Big Chino water between the Little Chino and Upper Agua Fria sub-basins in the PrAMA.

• States that the Big Chino water already is "legally available" to the PrAMA under the state's Assured Water Supply rules.
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