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Sun, July 21

Prescott council grapples with interim water policy

PRESCOTT – Opinions varied widely throughout the discussion, but ultimately on Tuesday, the Prescott City Council appeared to take the middle ground on its short-term water policy.

After about an hour and a half of discussion, the majority of council members voiced support for an interim policy that would allow for case-by-case consideration of requests and would not cap the amount of water a project can receive.

That was a turn-around from the direction the council appeared to be heading at one point in the meeting, when some members pushed for a virtual shutdown of all water allocations until next spring.

The need for a short-term water policy arose this past month, when council members questioned whether the city should be allocating water to new projects, when its supply of alternative water is in question. Council members were especially dubious about allocating water to projects seeking a zoning change that would increase the number of homes in a project.

Complicating the issue is the city's Sept. 1 application to the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) for an additional 3,381 acre-feet of alternate water. Although city officials have expressed confidence that the state would grant the request, they acknowledge that they will not get an official answer until about April. In the meantime, the city is down to about 236 acre-feet of water in its alternative water account.

That led city staff members to put together a presentation that detailed the city's water situation, as well as some suggestions for how to deal with the situation in the next six months or so.

The presentation included three options for the council:

• Continuing to allocate water to new projects on a first-come-first-served basis until the alternative water account is exhausted.

• Applying rules to the allocations, such as limiting approvals to those in which the applicants are not requesting an increase in zoning density.

• Deferring all alternative water allocations, except for previous contractual obligations, until ADWR rules on the city's alternative water increase request.

The council also considered limiting water allocations to 30 acre-feet per project.

Councilman Steve Blair questioned from the start the need for a drastic change in policy. "I don't see what the concern is; we've managed our water very well, in my opinion," he said. "I don't want to turn people away because we are living with a fear factor which we shouldn't be living in, based on the track record we have."

But Councilman Jim Lamerson noted that a question still remains about ADWR's response to the city's request. "We have no assurance that ADWR is going to give us more water simply because we ask," he said. "I would just as soon have an interim policy to figure out what we can do to use (the water that remains in the city's account)."

Even so, Lamerson said he did not want to "deny anybody their building rights," and he pushed for a moderate approach to the interim policy. Council members Mary Ann Suttles and Bob Roecker also supported a less stringent policy. "I don't think we ought to be messing with the economy of our community," Roecker said of the proposal to shut down new water allocations.

Councilmen Bob Bell and John Steward, however, both voiced support for deferring all new water allocations until the city has an answer on its alternative water.

In the end, the second option, limiting allocations for projects seeking a higher-density zoning change, got the endorsement of the majority. Council members also rejected the proposal to cap the allocations at 30 acre-feet.

A vote on the policy likely will take place at the Nov. 9 council meeting.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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