Candidate Q&A: Is the Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline realistic?

Mayor candidates, top from left: Mary Beth Hrin, Greg Mengarelli, and Jean Wilcox. Council candidates, middle row from left: Steve Blair, Connie Cantelme, and Phil Goode. Council candidates, bottom row from left: Greg Lazzell, Alexa Scholl, and Joe Viccica.

Courtesy photos

Mayor candidates, top from left: Mary Beth Hrin, Greg Mengarelli, and Jean Wilcox. Council candidates, middle row from left: Steve Blair, Connie Cantelme, and Phil Goode. Council candidates, bottom row from left: Greg Lazzell, Alexa Scholl, and Joe Viccica.

With monitoring and modeling studies continuing, the Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline has been in a holding pattern for the past five years or so.

The project, which officially began in 2004 with the City of Prescott’s purchase of ranchland northwest of Paulden, was put on hold in 2012 when the city and its partner, the Town of Prescott Valley, along with the Salt River Project, agreed to an eight-year monitoring and groundwater modeling process.

The goal: To determine whether Prescott and Prescott Valley’s plans to import thousands of acre-feet per year from the Big Chino Basin would impact the flow of the Upper Verde River.

While local officials had originally projected that the pipeline would be underway in 2009, a number of issues, including the economic downturn and monitoring and modeling project, combined to postpone the project — postponing the project after results of the studies.

Meanwhile, Prescott has seen a resurgence in requests for water allocations, and has been relying in recent years on its alternative water — resources that are accumulated largely through aquifer recharge from treated effluent and surface water (from Willow and Watson lakes).

Here, Prescott Mayor and City Council candidates discuss their views on the Big Chino pipeline.

What is the future of the Big Chino Water Ranch? Will the pipeline ever become a reality? How would you pay for it?

Council candidates

Phil Goode: Until the Salt River Project analysis is completed, within the next one to two years, we will not know what type of pipeline is needed. Cost estimates range from $150 to $300 million. Until we achieve some resolution to the PSPRS problem considering a pipeline to the Big Chino is not feasible.

Lazzell: We’re still waiting for the study to be completed.

Alexa Scholl: In the coming years, I don’t see the Big Chino pipeline becoming a reality with the current burden of PSPRS on our budget. There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to create a pipeline, and just because the City of Prescott has the legal right to import water from the Big Chino Water Ranch, that doesn’t mean that we should at the detriment of the environment and economic aspects of our community.

Joe Viccica: We need to hold off on capping the Big Chino as long as possible. We can do that by conservation, rain water collection, and smart growth practices. There is a substantial cost associated with the pipeline, but we have an agreement with Prescott Valley to share the cost of construction if we have to go that route in the future. The proposed pipeline may have an effect on the Upper Verde River, and we’ll know how much can be mitigated when a water study is returned in 2020.

Steve Blair: Absolutely the Big Chino is a big deal. We as a city have the legal right to pump from the Big Chino. Yes it will be a reality. Everyone will pay for it, new growth and old growth. That’s how it was done in the past and how it should be done in the future.

Connie Cantelme: I am a supporter of the Big Chino water ranch. I believe people are coming here and people are going to continue to come here we need to be smart and plan for the future. We need to be proactive on this issue not reactive

Mayor candidates

Jean Wilcox: The future of the Big Chino Water Ranch is yet to be determined. The City is currently studying whether pumping groundwater at full capacity would impair the Upper Verde River and what we can do to alleviate any impairment. The pipeline may become a reality, but we don’t have the data yet to be certain. Prescott will share in the cost with the other users, pursue low interest financing such as WIFA loans, and federal and state funding. By our City Charter, any expenditure over $40 million will require voter approval so building a pipeline will likely be a thoroughly debated process.

Greg Mengarelli: The future of the Big Chino Water Ranch depends a great deal on the final outcome of the extensive monitoring and modeling of the Big Chino Sub-basin being performed to ensure that future pumping will not affect the Upper Verde River Springs. Once those studies are complete, the co-owners to the rights of water at Big Chino Water Ranch (Prescott and Prescott Valley) can determine the best approach.

Mary Beth Hrin: Although our city’s per capita water use has dropped dramatically in recent years, the Big Chino Water Ranch is a necessity in order for Prescott to meet safe yield. Moreover, the Legislature has recognized our legal right to this water. Having said that, we have a contractual commitment with Salt River Project to ensure we do not impact the Verde River through a $5.5M hydrologic monitoring and modeling plan. Once the plan is completed and approved, an ample number of private investors looking for stable investments in the utility sector have already expressed interest in financing the pipeline project.