Prescott cuts alternative water availability by half for 2015

PRESCOTT - Enough water to serve about 300 new homes is now available within Prescott city limits.

The Prescott City Council unanimously approved its water budget this week, making 100 acre-feet of alternative water available for the coming year - an amount that officials say would cover the water needs for about 300 homes. (An acre foot equals 325,851 gallons of water).

That represents about one-half the amount of alternative water available annually over much of the past decade (2006 to 2014), when the city allocated 200 acre-feet of alternative water per year to new development.

Prescott Water Resources Manager Leslie Graser and City Manager Craig McConnell reported that because the city's alternative water supply has been diminishing, they were recommending a reduction to 100 acre feet per year for the next three years.

Graser pointed out that 314 acre-feet of alternative water remains in the city's portfolio, and she suggested "increments of 100 acre-feet per year."

The alternative water is available to the city under a 2009 state "decision and order" (D&O), which originally allowed for considerably more alternative water. However, city's sources have not lived up to projections.

Graser has explained that the city has primarily two sources of water - Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) water, which comes from the ground within tri-city area; and alternative supplies, which include surface water, treated wastewater (effluent), and imported groundwater.

Central to the city's water portfolio is the fact that the amount of water that can be pumped from the ground within the AMA has been capped by the state for years. In addition, none of Prescott's three alternative sources has produced the amount of water that the city originally anticipated.

In its surface-water category, the city has the authority to withdraw as much as 1,391 acre-feet of water from Willow and Watson lakes per year and recharge that amount into the aquifer. In turn, the city receives water credits, which can be allocated to new development.

Because of dry weather, however, the actual amount of surface water recharged averaged about 1,049 acre-feet per year over the past decade and a half, resulting in a shortfall of alternative water.

The effluent amount also has fallen short, Graser said, largely because the community did not grow at the expected rate and therefore did not produce the anticipated amount of wastewater.

Meanwhile, the status of the "imported water" category is in limbo as the city continues to do monitoring and modeling research on the long-planned Big Chino Ranch project in the Paulden area.

The alternative water that is available under the state's 2009 decision and order should last through 2017, according to the city's information, and Graser told the council this past week that the process for a new D&O is expected to begin in 2016.

Of this year's 100 acre-feet of alternative water, 80 acre-feet of water is available for "market development," and the remainder is available to workforce/affordable housing projects.

Councilman Jim Lamerson said the rationale for the reservation of water for workforce housing "was to cut down on urban sprawl and afford property owners the opportunity to bring forward projects that could address housing affordable to a lot of the service providers in the city."

While priority would be given to workforce housing for the 20 acre-feet of water, city officials noted that the matter is set by council policy, and could be adjusted during the coming year.

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