Originally Published: September 20, 2018 4:44 p.m.
Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG) President and Sierra Club Yavapai Group Chair Gary Beverly outlined four threats to Paulden Water at the Central Highlands Natural Resources Preservation Group meeting Thursday, Sept. 13.
Those four threats include expanded irrigation, legally authorized export, population growth and the Big Chino Pumped Storage Project, Beverly said.
Currently, irrigation demand in the Big Chino Aquifer is 4,000 acre-feet of water per year according to the United States Geological Survey, he said. That’s a football field of water filled up 4,000 feet high and can supply 12,000 homes worth of water. No new laws restrict irrigation wells in the Big Chino either, Beverly said.
“They don’t even have to report how much water they use. We don’t even know how much water they use,” he said. “I’m giving you best estimates based on aerial photography and history.”
For exports, should the Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline become a reality, it will end up exporting about 11,600 acre-feet of water per year, and the total amount of exported water when other entities’ exports are added in would be about 18,800 acre-feet per year, Beverly said. The City of Prescott has said they would mitigate the pumping by making sure there is no further reduction in the Verde River Basin flow, no degradation of water quality, maintaining of natural flood flow cycles and no degradation to Paulden wells, but it’s unknown how the city is going to do that, he said.
Should the pipeline go into effect, there would be a 30-foot decline in the water level and about 60 percent of the Upper Verde River would go dry, Beverly said.
With the current population, annual demand for water from the Big Chino Aquifer is nearly 2,000 acre-feet of water per year, and with population growth, that demand could rise to
be between 2,000 and 20,000 acre-feet of water per year, by 2110, he said.
When it comes to the Big Chino Pumped Storage Project, which would fill two reservoirs connected by a tunnel and powerhouse and would require 27,000 acre-feet of water for an initial fill, its annual demand of about 1,000 acre-feet of water per year by 2110 and cumulative demand of 128,000 acre-feet of water by that year makes it the smallest threat out of all four, Beverly said.
The position CWAG is taking is that the group does not have enough details to analyze though it has given the company proposing the project, ITC, the same standards of mitigation it gave to Prescott regarding the Big Chino Water Ranch, he said. It has to prove using reputable groundwater models that it won’t harm the water, Beverly said.
“It is undeniably true that pumping ground water in the Upper Big Chino for the pumped storage plant will affect the river and will affect your wells,” he said. “The question is how much.”
ITC has publicly accepted the mitigation conditions, something the City of Prescott has never done, Beverly said.
There is far more demand for the water than is sustainable, he said. Depending on what actions are taken, all four threats could consume anywhere from 60 percent of a river to five rivers’ worth of water by 2110, which would kill the river, and make the possible cumulative demand by 2110 up to 5 million acre-feet, he said.
“Clearly, there’s far more demand for this water than is sustainable,” Beverly said. “When you look at it, you add all that stuff up, I see 25 miles of the Verde River dry. That’s just not acceptable to me.”
What needs to be done is having better water management to solve the problem in a cooperative way and the people using their voice to protect the river, he said. Possible solutions include keeping the ranchers in business, assure that exports are fully mitigated, control the conditions of growth and enact aggressive water conservation and monitor the Big Chino Pumped Storage Project to make sure the Verde River is not harmed.
Paulden resident Alice Newton said she grew up in the Las Vegas area and said a lot can be learned from the water situation in Southern Nevada. The Las Vegas Valley has about 2 million people living in it, Newton said.
“When I was a kid, it had 150,000,” she said. “That looks like 1.75 million people in the last 40 years that have populated that valley.”
When she was a child, the water situation was similar to this one and the water conservation measures implemented on the Las Vegas Valley water system were quite successful, which shows that water conservation programs work and that the cumulative power of conservation can mitigate a lot of these problems, Newton said.
Central Highlands Natural Resources Preservation Group Board Member Georgene Lockwood said that even though the Big Chino Pumped Storage Project is the fourth-largest threat Beverly mentioned, opposing it is obvious.
“If you look at the first three, it’s so overwhelming. Why are we even considering the fourth one?” Lockwood said. “If it’s so small, why don’t we just shoot it dead in the water right now?”