Exempt wells present challenge for safe yield efforts
PRESCOTT – While local officials appeared to agree this week that private wells factor significantly in the safe yield equation, they had a more difficult time reaching consensus on how to get a handle on the rural water users.
Several dozen area officials met in Prescott Valley Wednesday night to discuss a regional approach to meeting the goal of safe yield by 2025.
Safe yield is the condition in which a balance exists between the amount of water the area is pumping from the ground and the amount going back into the aquifer. The Prescott area has been out of safe yield, or mining groundwater, since the late 1990s.
This week’s meeting was a joint discussion of the Groundwater Users Advisory Council (GUAC) and the Regional Association of Local Governments, a group that meets periodically to discuss regional issues. The meeting attracted representatives from all of the local municipalities, Yavapai County, the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR).
Central to the discussion was the impact that private wells have on the aquifer. Although municipal water systems fall under strict groundwater management rules and monitoring, the private wells that exist in many areas of the county are considered “exempt.”
But with private wells accounting for about 15 percent of the pumped groundwater in the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA), local officials were quick to note that they will have an impact on the local governments’ efforts to reach safe yield.
“The exempt wells outside the municipalities are creating a huge drain,” said GUAC’s chairman, John Olsen. “It is not going to be possible for the municipalities to reach safe yield if a substantial amount is drawn off from the outside.”
According to information that Prescott Valley Water Resources Manager John Munderloh provided, the City of Prescott accounts for about 36 percent of the water pumped in the AMA, while Prescott Valley uses about 22 percent. Munderloh added that the two municipalities “also recharge a good amount” of effluent (treated wastewater) back into the aquifer .
On the other hand, most exempt wells operate with septic systems, which have no aquifer recharge potential.
ADWR officials estimate that about 10,500 exempt wells exist in the AMA. Each uses about one-third acre-foot of water per year.
While some of the officials at the meeting pushed for more regulations on exempt wells, such as monitoring of the pumped water, ADWR officials cautioned that such regulations have been a tough sell at the state Legislature.
And Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski noted that a better approach might be ensuring that exempt water well users “pay their fair share” of the cost to reach safe yield.
Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann emphasized that the rural areas that use exempt wells have no other options available to them. “When the AMA rules were established in 1980, we weren’t real savvy,” she said. “Consequently, we have no paper water (rights). The only thing we have left is exempt wells. We hate it as much as everybody else.”
Olsen noted that the debate over exempt wells has been going on for years. He suggested that the group allow GUAC to take the lead to try to come up with workable ideas for dealing with the issue. GUAC agreed to form a committee to work on the matter.
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