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Fri, Dec. 06

Town still in water deals

The City of Prescott's recent decision to forego purchasing the CF/CV Ranches and to consider the Kieckhefer Foundation's JWK Ranch as a source of groundwater was no surprise to officials at the Town of Prescott Valley.

"We're in the loop; we're partners in the process of buying a water contract," said Larry Tarkowski, Interim Manager for the Town of Prescott Valley.

On April 15 of this year, Prescott Valley adopted a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Prescott to participate in a project to import groundwater into the Prescott Active Management Area from the CV/CF Ranches in the Big Chino sub-basin northwest of Paulden.

The Big Chino sub-basin is outside the Prescott Active Management area. Generally, state statute A.R.S.45-555 prohibits transportation of groundwater from a groundwater basin or sub-basin outside of an active management area to an initial active management area. However, the statute provides exceptions for the transportation of groundwater from the Big Chino sub-basin, adjacent to the Prescott Active Management Area, into the Prescott AMA.

Prescott AMA is allowed an average of three acre-feet of groundwater per year for each acre of historically irrigated land that it owns and retires, or causes to be retired, in the Big Chino sub-basin. The statute further allows the City of Prescott to withdraw and transport up to 14,000 acre-feet per year from the Big Chino. In a recent letter to Tarkowski, Arizona Department of Water Resources area director for the Prescott AMA James Holt said the City of Prescott is currently entitled to 8,717 acre-feet per year based upon conditions contained within the statute. As per its agreement with the City of Prescott, Prescott Valley's share is not quite half - 4,000 acre-feet, or 46%. Prescott Valley will pay Prescott its pro-rata share for the estimated $65 million cost.

Much of the money will come from new development, Tarkowski said.

"In Prescott Valley, it has always been the direction of the Council and the citizens to make growth pay for growth," he said.

The Town will market 4,000 acre-feet of water to developers for new housing, he said.

Chino Valley is also in the equation, even though the Town "can't be a player in this agreement right now," said Prescott Valley interim town manager, Larry Tarkowski.

"We've all agreed that once water is available, then Chino will have 24 months to decide. They will reimburse costs proportionate to their deal," he said. "We (Prescott and Prescott Valley) didn't want to leave any community out in the cold."

In 1999, ADWR declared that Prescott AMA was not at safe yield. Based on 1997 data, the aquifer overdraft was 11,800 acre-feet. As a result of regional growth and construction combined with the ongoing drought, the 2002 aquifer overdraft had increased to nearly 15,500 acre-feet.

ADWR requires the Prescott AMA to balance annual groundwater inputs and withdrawals to attain safe yield by 2025. Achieving safe yield is based on four conditions: 1) significant on-going water conservation by cities, towns and private water companies, 2) reduction of groundwater use by turf facilities and increased effluent use, 3) use of other renewable supplies, and 4) reliance upon imported groundwater from the Big Chino sub-basin.

Officials doubt the Prescott AMA can achieve safe yield without importing water. In fact, the Prescott AMA 2002-2003 Hydrologic Monitoring Report concludes: "Continued over-reliance on mined groundwater will make it impossible for the Prescott AMA to achieve its long-term safe-yield goal without the most rigorous water management and development strategies that must include the importation of new water supplies in addition to enhanced water conservation programs and the maximization of effluent use and recharge."

Tarkowski said importing water is not uncommon, nor is it a new concept, but is necessary when a community's density outstrips the local watershed's ability to support it.

"Rome did it with their aquaducts (312 B.C. to 226 A.D.)," he said.

In his letter to Tarkowski, Holt states ADWR supports Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley in their efforts to develop water supplies from the Big Chino sub-basin, and will participate in regional discussions to ensure sustainable water resources.

The City of Prescott seemed nearly certain to purchase the CV/CF Ranch and even received a 30-day extension on the purchase deadline in late May. But the Prescott Council let the option expire and instead began to focus on a less-expensive option, the JFK Ranch, when the information came to light.

"I asked the question two-and-a-half years ago, directly and clearly: 'Is that the only water up there?'" Tarkowski said.

He said Prescott's then-city manager told him yes.

Newer officials have since discovered other ranches with sufficient water supplies whose owners are interested in dealing with the tri-cities' needs.

Tarkowski said JWK Ranch appears to offer a better rate and a net increase in available water. (See accompanying article for a comparison of the two water purchase options.)

"Are we on board? Absolutely. Will growth pay for growth? Absolutely. Is this a good thing for Prescott Valley? Absolutely," Tarkowski said.

Contact the reporter at:chartz@prescottaz.com.

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