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9:15 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Prescott AMA analysis alarms Verde leaders

CAMP VERDE – Some Verde Valley leaders expressed concerns about the future of the Verde River Wednesday, after hearing a presentation from the Citizens Water Advocacy Group during a Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee meeting.

Two members of the Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG), which is based in the Prescott Active Management Area (PrAMA), offered details about CWAG's analysis of the Arizona Department of Water Resources' current 10-year plan for how the PrAMA will stop depleting the groundwater in its aquifer by 2025.

CWAG's analysis concluded that some of the assumptions that the state made in 1998 while writing the plan for 2000-2010 have turned out to be wrong. The assumptions relate to 10-year projections of population and groundwater use.

Instead of being able to reach "safe yield" by 2025 and stop depleting its Little Chino aquifer, the PrAMA is more likely to have an overdraft of 17,000 acre-feet of groundwater by then, CWAG concluded.

Unless the PrAMA imports more groundwater from other aquifers than it already plans to do, it will have to "manage its population" to meet the safe yield goal, CWAG member Howard Mechanic told the water committee during its monthly meeting in Camp Verde Wednesday.

"If the overdraft continues in the Prescott AMA, this will affect the Verde watershed," Mechanic said. "I know it's of interest to a lot of people here for that reason."

Verde Valley resident Win Hjalmarson, who has conducted scientific studies of the Verde River Basin, noted that all the PrAMA plan's errors went in the same direction, underestimating water use and population.

"I get very suspicious about the whole realm of what's going on here," Hjalmarson said.

Mechanic said CWAG isn't accusing the state of "fudging" the numbers.

"These are plans," added Prescott Utilities Director Carol Johnson. "I think that's what people have to keep in mind." She noted that the Prescott City Council will hear a presentation from its consultant Herb Dishlip April 19 about how Prescott can do its part to reach safe yield.

Mechanic and fellow CWAG member Bill Meyer repeatedly said that the state will need to start regulating private residential wells in order for the PrAMA to reach safe yield. The plan underestimated groundwater use by these "exempt wells."

CWAG's estimated groundwater overdraft for the PrAMA exceeds the flow of the upper Verde River, Hjalmarson said. Stream flows from the PrAMA feed the upper Verde.

"It looks like the upper Verde's gone to me," Hjalmarson said.

The goal of safe yield doesn't take surface water flows into account, Mechanic noted.

"So we're not saying safe yield is the best thing around," versus a broader goal of sustainability, Mechanic said.

The Water Advisory Committee needs to talk about the issue, said Co-Chair Jane Moore, who also is Jerome's mayor. The committee spent more than an hour on the presentation Wednesday but didn't discuss the analysis much.

"I think we've all agreed (throughout the years) that we want to keep the river flowing," Moore said of the water committee. "Safe yield, it looks to me, is not going to do what we'd like to see done."

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com