<I>Talk of the Town</I><BR>What's an appropriate water development fee?

Prescott's City Council faces important decisions soon on the CV Ranch purchase.

To be able to make the best decisions, the council and public should have as much information as possible about relevant issues.

Recently controversy surfaced about how to pay for the ranch and pipeline infrastructure. Prescott commissioned a consultant to determine impact fees. The consultant suggested an increase in impact fees of $2,472 for new homes, and more for new businesses. The fees would cover all of the associated costs of using CV Ranch water in Prescott.

But some developers squawked – not about paying full and fair water development impact fees (which has been city policy and is in the proposed General Plan), but they suggested that some of the new water would go to existing users – so new development should not bear all of the costs.

But that argument misses the real point. The question we should answer is: What is an appropriate water development fee for new growth? Prescott does not have enough water for any new growth, so any water infrastructure needed for such growth must come from either the CV Ranch or alternative sources. Chances are that if alternative sources must provide some or all of new growth's needs, those sources' infrastructure costs would be at least as much as CV Ranch's.

The city expects to pump 8,717 acre-feet per year from the ranch. The city estimated that new growth e over the next 30 years would need 4,717 acre-feet per year of water (54 percent of total production). Then the city decided to sell the remaining 46 percent to Chino Valley and Prescott Valley. So if new growth needs water infrastructure, which would cost 54 percent of the CV Ranch's total expenses, then impact fees should return exactly that – as the consultant computed.

Developers and the city should realize that the new impact fee should not have to cover the expected CV Ranch expenditures, but for whatever infrastructure is necessary to supply the needs of new growth. If some of the ranch's production goes to existing users, then some of new growth's needs would have to come from another new source, in which case the impact fees would cover the new source's costs.

At its March 30 meeting, the City Council will consider what is a fair water impact fee for new development. If developers don't bear all of Prescott's portion of the expected $58 million costs, then all other water users will face an unfair burden.

While the city has spent much time and money researching the CV Ranch purchase, some questions still await answers – and, as far as the public knows, the city may not even have asked some.

The city should consider the following issues, try to resolve them, and share answers with the public as soon as possible:

• What is the chance that city pumping on the ranch (either alone or in combination with other expected users) would negatively affect the Verde River riparian area? And what is the chance the pumping would harm the riparian area enough to violate the Endangered Species Act?

• What commitments must the city make to dedicate conservation easements and limit other water uses on the ranch?

• What specifically is the city's mitigation plan to minimize effects on the Verde? Will the city recharge the aquifer that feeds the Verde River? If it plans such a recharge into Granite Creek, what percentage of the recharge would go into the Verde and what percentage would recharge our own AMA's aquifers?

• If the AMA cannot comply with "safe yield" by 2025, with importation of just 8,700 acre-feet per year from the Big Chino aquifer, and we get approval to mine even more water in the Big Chino, will the pipeline be able to handle the extra flow or will the pressure be too much? In simpler terms, will the city have to spend another $25 million for a second pipeline?

• Should any portion (and how much) of CV water go to existing users, thereby reducing our overdraft? Why or why not?

Important public decisions, such as the CV Ranch, should have as much public involvement as possible. We hope the city agrees.

(Howard Mechanic is chairman of the Public Policy Committee, Citizens Water Advocacy Group.)