Talk of the Town: Setting the record straight on water and Deep Well Ranch

This is to set the record straight regarding the recent Daily Courier column dated Sept. 25, 2015: "Water and the Deep Well Ranch annexation," by Leslie Hoy, media coordinator of the Citizens Water Advocacy Group.

The first key point made by the column is accurate: "... per the agreement, the James family receives the water (1,850 acre-feet) whether or not the Deep Well land is annexed."

This is followed with the general statement that, "Consequences of continued (aquifer) overdraft include more wells going dry, increased pumping and drilling costs, reduced stream flows, and land subsidence." No information is provided: identifying where wells have gone dry, demonstrating that the flows of actual streams have been reduced, or locations where land subsidence has been observed.

It is within the next paragraph, however, where the speculative comments of the column severely diverge from the General Plan of the city of Prescott, approved by voters on Aug. 25, 2015, water management best practices, and actual facts. To begin, reference is made to Proposition 400, which requires all effluent (reclaimed water produced by the city's wastewater treatment plants and recharged to the aquifer) generated by development on annexed property of 250 acres or more, be permanently recharged (left in the ground, not pumped back out). This accurate reference is then tied to an unsupported and incorrect contention that, "Development in the city ... could be more rapid and considerably denser than in the county, thus consuming more water overall, despite the requirement for recharge."

Deep Well Ranch is entitled to the 1,850 acre-feet, regardless of either where the development occurs, inside or outside the city limits, or at what density - no reduction in water use will result from development outside the city. And if the development occurs outside of it, the wastewater from new residences will flow to individual septic systems, resulting in zero benefit to the aquifer through recharge. As for lower density development, surely the Citizens Water Advocacy Group is not supporting sprawl, which is precisely what would result. Such sprawl would be contrary to the policies of the General Plan, and jeopardize long-term viability of Prescott Municipal Airport through development of incompatible land uses. The lack of recharge is also contrary to the General Plan, which seeks to optimize existing supplies through strategies such as maximizing reuse and recharge.

In addition to the preceding concerns, the column contains errors. The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) uses a demand calculator for Certificates of Assured Water Supply, not a unit demand of 0.35 acre-feet per year per single family dwelling. The city of Prescott conservatively allocates water to development on the basis of 0.25 acre-feet per year per single-family residence, plus 0.10 acre-feet per year for commercial development to support the new residences.

With respect to the assertion that "Arizona Eco Development (AED) is planning to propose annexation of 2,471 acres, possibly later this fall," the area is actually 840 acres. AED is indeed planning to "bring their own water rights," which consist of wet water stored in Watson Lake, and presently delivered by the city to that property outside the city limits for agricultural purposes. None of the water for this proposed 840-acre development will be from the Little Chino aquifer as stated in the column. An important benefit of this proposed annexation is the replacement of agriculture use with municipal use, which will result in a net benefit to the aquifer through permanent recharge of the treated wastewater effluent, as required by Proposition 400, approximately 50 percent of the 375 acre-feet of surface water rights being converted to municipal water supply.

In passing, the column touches on the financial aspects of the proposed Deep Well Ranch annexations. These are addressed in detail in the report titled "Fiscal Impacts of the Deep Well Ranch Annexation on the City of Prescott," available on the city website. An independent Financial Review Committee required by Proposition 400 has concluded that the report is an accurate analysis of the fiscal impacts, projected to be $22.9 million positive (of benefit to the city of Prescott and its economy) for the period 2017-2041.

Finally, the column states, "The city currently does offer conservation incentives ... but landscaping codes for new construction are few and weak." The truth is that the city's water supplies and the use thereof are heavily regulated by the ADWR. There are ADWR conservation requirements for all sectors, even including what types of plants can be used in the medians of transportation corridors. The city has consistently applied and encouraged conservation measures exceeding those in state law.

Catherine Sebold is Communications and Public Affairs manager for the city of Prescott.