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Thu, April 18

Low water supply raises concerns about ranch commitment

PRESCOTT – With less than 200 acre-feet of water remaining in its alternative water fund, the City of Prescott grappled this week with the 612.5-acre-foot commitment it earlier made to the Granite Dells and Point of Rock ranches.

The issue arose during the Prescott City Council's Tuesday discussion of a proposed amendment to the development agreement that the city approved in 2003 with the developers of the two northeast Prescott ranches.

In that agreement, the city committed to providing 612.5 acre-feet of water per year to the ranches to serve 1,750 new homes.

At the time of the agreement, city officials said the water would come out of Prescott's alternative water portfolio, which it accumulated by recharging treated wastewater (effluent) into the aquifer.

City Attorney John Moffitt said this week that the city did have the necessary water in its portfolio at the time of the agreement. But since then, Moffitt said, the city has continued to allocate water from its alternative water fund to other new developments.

"City staff at the time, who were responsible for monitoring (the alternative water account), did not deduct the 612.5 acre-feet that was included in the development agreement," Moffitt said.

Even though he allowed that the 612.5-acre-foot commitment puts the city in a temporary deficit situation, Moffitt maintained that the matter is not critical, because the city has time to acquire more alternative water before the ranches begin development.

"If the ranches were to annex today, and submit a plat today, and start building today," Moffitt said, the city would face a problem. "But they're still months away from annexation."

In the meantime, the city has applied to the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to receive a minimum of 1,500 acre-feet of new alternative water.

City officials say the new alternative water is available to the city, in part, because of its continued recharge of effluent into the aquifer.

Even so, Public Works Director Craig McConnell noted that the state department has about seven months to consider the city's application. Although he said the city has "every reason to believe that at the end of this process, we will have ample water," McConnell said the process probably will not be final until next spring.

City Councilman Jim Lamerson voiced concerns about the situation. "If we don't have the physical availability (to provide the water), I don't know why we would be doing this at this time," he said. "I'm somebody who, if I don't have it in my hand, I don't have it to spend."

Prescott resident George Seaman, who has quizzed the council frequently about the city's water portfolio, also had problems with the deficit situation the city now finds itself in.

"You're already in arrears," Seaman told the council. "This is a serious, serious issue. If it was money, people would be screaming about it. It almost borders on fraud."

Councilman Bob Roecker took exception with that comment, however, maintaining that "we're not being irresponsible."

And Moffitt reminded the council that the amendment under consideration this week would not change the status of the earlier commitment. "In the event the amendment doesn't pass, we're already on the hook for the 612.5 acre-feet of water," Moffitt said.

Added Councilman Steve Blair: "The bottom line is we're already committed."

The amendment, which the developers requested as they were approaching the close of escrow on the ranchland, would clarify that the project is entitled to the 612.5 acre-feet of water, regardless of how many residential units developers build.

The council plans to vote on the amendment resolution at its Sept. 14 meeting.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com

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