Originally Published: March 4, 2018 6:04 a.m.
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Questions arise over plant’s impact on Prescott’s Big Chino water rights
A “seat at the table” is the goal of a Prescott City Council’s Feb. 27 decision to intervene in the review of plans for a hydroelectric plant in the Big Chino Basin northwest of Paulden.
The council unanimously approved the resolution that allows the city to become involved in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s hearing on ITC Holdings’ application for the Big Chino Pumped Storage Project.
City Attorney Jon Paladini explained that the council decision does not indicate either city support or opposition to the plans, but rather gives the city the right to take a stand at a later date.
“This just allows us a seat at the table,” Paladini said. “We haven’t taken any formal position.”
Council members, who had earlier discussed the matter in a closed-door executive session on Jan. 23, brought up a number of questions and concerns about the project this week.
Councilman Phil Goode noted that the project would use “hundreds of millions of gallons of water” from the Big Chino Basin.
Information from the project indicates that the hydroelectric plant would initially pump 28,000 acre-feet of water for its reservoirs, and would then use 1,200 acre-feet of water per year to maintain them. (An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons).
Paladini said the project proposes building two reservoirs — one at a higher elevation than the other. The plans involve running water between the two reservoirs to produce energy, he said.
The city resolution points out that Prescott holds land and water rights in the Big Chino Basin, and has an interest in ensuring that “development of that project does not negatively impact the city’s holdings.”
In 2004, the city partnered with the Town of Prescott Valley to buy about 4,500 acres of land on the former JWK Ranch in the Paulden-area Big Chino Basin.
The plan was for the two communities to build a pipeline between the property — now known as the Big Chino Water Ranch — and the Prescott/Prescott Valley area. The pipeline would provide water for the growing communities.
Over the years, the water ranch plans faced legal challenges, however, and a 2010 settlement was reached that postponed construction of the pipeline while new monitoring and modeling studies were conducted to determine impacts of the pumping.
Meanwhile Prescott and Prescott Valley continue to own the land and the water rights.
Information on the city’s website states that after the 2010 settlement, the city has the right to transport 8,068 acre-feet from the Big Chino Basin. It adds that the settlement included a number of general stipulations “including an agreement that pumping by Prescott and Prescott Valley would not harm the UVS (Upper Verde Springs).”
ITC Holdings plans the hydroelectric plant to be located near the city’s Big Chino Water Ranch, and within the same Big Chino Basin aquifer.
Councilman Jim Lamerson voiced worries about maintenance of the city’s water rights. “My concern would be — would the (hydroelectric plant’s) pumping compromise the city’s water rights out in the Big Chino?” he asked.
Paladini said the city’s intervention in the review process would help to answer such questions. He pointed out that the plans for the hydroelectric plant are currently in the preliminary stages.
To provide the intervention services, the city has a contract with the Phoenix law firm Maguire, Pearce & Storey, which specializes in water rights and management.
The city’s “letter of engagement” with Maguire, Pearce & Storey sets the firm’s rate at $375 per hour, for a total cost of up to $10,000. The money for the services will come out of city’s water fund, according to a city memo.
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