Talk of the Town: Conservation celebration effort a bit premature

The OpEd by the Central Arizona Partnership of Sept. 5 was distinguished more by what was not mentioned than by what was presented. While it is appropriate for CAP to praise the public for their water conservation efforts, it is inappropriate to exalt such efforts while ignoring the fact that our groundwater depletion continues to increase.

While it is true that per-capita water use in the Prescott Active Management Area has declined, our overdraft has increased since 1998 when our AMA was declared out of safe yield (long-term balance of groundwater input and output). Presently, for every two gallons of groundwater used, over one gallon is overdraft. Obviously, this isn’t sustainable. And what’s worse, our overdraft is projected to increase.

People ask how long our groundwater will last. But that question indicates that they’d rather destroy our aquifer than protect it for all future generations. The longer we wait to maintain our groundwater, the greater the damages will be. There will be more dry wells and higher costs for pumping – eventually no pumping. Why not try to solve the problem now, rather than kicking it down the road?

The reports from two governmental safe yield committees earlier in the decade suggested local jurisdictions needed to resolve our overdraft problem. The AMA’s jurisdictions have refused and have no plan to reach safe yield — and they aren’t even developing a plan.

Available water supplies can be used for either new growth or to reduce our groundwater overdraft. Until now, all supplies the jurisdictions could use for growth have gone to growth. No governing body of any AMA jurisdiction has ever dedicated one drop to reduce our overdraft. Where is the balance?

I continue to hear some say that the proposed Big Chino Project will fix our overdraft. However, the facts are much different. Prescott Valley gets 48 percent of the Project water (assuming the pipeline is ever built). PV has always said growth will pay for all PV Project water. So presumably, growth will get all their water. Prescott would get 52 percent of the water. Since growth is paying 80 percent of Prescott’s Project costs, growth will presumably get 80 percent of Prescott’s share. That leaves 20 percent of Prescott’s share to be dedicated to reducing our overdraft: less than 1,000 acre feet, which is less than 10 percent of our present overdraft. So how does the Project solve our overdraft?

While conservation efforts have been effective, they have not put a dent in our overdraft. That’s because new users who have rights to groundwater have started pumping. And because previous conservation savings have resulted from using the “low hanging fruit,” any future conservation savings will be much more difficult to achieve and not balance new pumpers — causing our future overdrafts to increase.

So conservation and the Big Chino alone will not solve our serious overdraft. We need all citizens, including business leaders such as those of CAP, to ask local jurisdictions to look into a water replenishment district as allowed by state law.

Howard Mechanic, a Prescott resident, served on the Safe Yield Committees of the AMA’s Groundwater Users’ Advisory Committee and the Upper Verde Watershed Protection Coalition.