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2:42 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Prescott OKs short-term water policy<BR><I>Sets new obstacles for developers seeking allocations</I>

PRESCOTT – Developers of large projects will face a new hurdle when they apply for water from the City of Prescott during the next several months.

At its Tuesday voting session, the Prescott City Council unanimously approved a new short-term policy that will govern its water allocations to new projects.

Among the points of the new policy is a guideline on the amount of water that can go to any one project. Council members agreed that water allocations for projects should be not more than 10 percent of the amount of water the city has in its alternative water account.

With the city's water balance currently in the 220-acre-foot range, City Attorney John Moffitt said the initial amount for water allocations would be about 22 acre-feet.

Moffitt explained that several large projects could be moving forward to the council soon. For instance, he said, an apartment complex with 152 units is currently under review by Prescott Planning and Zoning. That project would require about 53 acre-feet of water.

In addition, Moffitt said he heard from representatives of the Storm Ranch on Friday, asking to begin the water allocation application process with the city. Developers of the ranch, east of Prescott near Watson Lake, have proposed building about 800 units on land that is already in the city limits. The ranch's new proposal would require about 260 acre-feet of water.

(An earlier Storm Ranch development proposal in-volved building about 2,250 homes on 962 acres. While a portion of the ranch acreage is within city limits, the bulk of it is not, and would have required annexation. In July, developers postponed consideration of those plans in the face of a number of unresolved issues, including the availability of water.)

When council members first considered the short-term water policy this past week, they appeared to be leaning against imposing a limit on allocations. But with several projects on the horizon, members came to a consensus this week.

"My preference is to have a cap on any one single project," Councilman Jim Lamerson said. "What I can foresee happening is somebody coming up and swallowing all of the water in one gulp."

Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles agreed, noting that she was "finding it a little hard (to believe) that some of these people are rushing in" with new development plans.

Suttles emphasized that the short-term water policy would apply only until the city receives a new allocation of alternative water from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). "This is just a waiting period of maybe three to four months," Suttles said.

The city applied in September for an additional 3,381 acre-feet of alternate water. Although city officials say they are confident that the state will grant more alternate water, they don't expect to hear back on their application until next spring.

In the meantime, the balance in the city's current alternate water account is dwindling. The account started at 1,000 acre-feet in 1999, as a part of the city's five-year water plan. The short-term water policy is an amendment to that policy.

The policy also precludes projects that are seeking higher-density zoning from receiving city water.

In addition to the short-term water policy, the council's motion also included an adjustment to the city's application to ADWR for its increase in alternate water. City resident George Seaman has questioned city officials about why the original 2002 council resolution authorizing the application asks for about 1,500 acre-feet of water, when the actual application asks for 3,381 acre-feet.

Moffitt maintained that the city was under no obligation to change the original resolution. Even so, he said he included the amendment to the resolution because of the questions the matter continued to generate.

"We felt that we should include this provision just to put the matter to rest," Moffitt wrote in a memo to the council.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com