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Fri, Jan. 24

Talk of the Town

The Aug. 9 Courier editorial correctly identifies the major impediment to our area's effort to manage our groundwater ­ the unregulated proliferation of "exempt wells" (household wells).

All users in our Active Management Area, including those on exempt wells, must be responsible for helping us reach safe yield ­ where the amount of water pumped does not exceed the amount recharged.

If the growth rate of exempt wells continues as it has, by 2025 they could be extracting 10,000 acre-feet of water annually. Under safe yield, our whole AMA can pump about 12,000 acres of groundwater yearly. That would leave about 2,000 acre-feet for the rest of us.

Unfortunately, as the Courier laments, it will be difficult to get our state Legislature to regulate exempt wells. Many members of the Legislature consider "regulation" a dirty word. They think it's better to let people drain our aquifers than to manage our water resources for future generations.

The best chance we have is for all the local jurisdictions to get together and ask the Legislature for the right to set up a Groundwater Replenishment District for our AMA. This would make it a "local control" issue. We would need the Legislature to grant the democratically elected board of the district the right to assess fees on exempt wells. Those fees would go only to recharge our aquifer on behalf of exempt well users, for them to participate in a plan to reach safe yield. Obtaining that type of state enabling legislation is the only feasible way our AMA can reach and maintain safe yield.

People who build inside municipalities pay sizable impact fees for water from sources other than our groundwater. And, existing users in the cities will have to pay to help us reach safe yield. Why should other people get off the hook and make it harder for us to reach safe yield simply by putting in their own well?

Our groundwater is our common resource. We know from the lesson of the "Tragedy of the Commons" that if there is not adequate regulation of the use of common resources, those resources become severely depleted.

Instead of promoting state legislation as the only reasonable solution to our problem, the Courier misdirects blame onto Proposition 400 (the Reasonable Growth Initiative developed by Citizens for Reasonable Growth which voters approved on last year's Prescott ballot by a large majority).

You stated: "Had Prescott been able to annex Granite Dells Ranch and Point of the Rocks, the city could have controlled the amount of water coming out of the aquifer and had recharge from the property count toward safe yield."

In fact, Prescott could have annexed those ranches ­ and still can. But the public clearly doesn't want an annexation agreement such as the pre-development agreement that guaranteed the ranch owners as much water as the total amount Prescott is expecting to get from the Big Chino.

Proposition 400 gives the public more assurance that future large annexation deals will be much better than that. The solution to our water problem isn't to annex as much property as possible. Certainly we can't promise all the landowners surrounding our city limits that if they annex into the city we will provide as much water as they want. We should annex only when the annexation serves the public interest.

We also should consider the fact that if the ranches remain in the county, the smallest lots that could result from wildcat lots splits would be two-acre home sites. In that case, there would be at most 50 homes on every 100 acres.

Under the pre-development agreement with Prescott, if annexation occurs the owners of the ranches would be able to build 125 homes on every 100 acres ­ producing a quantity of homes and people two and a half times what would be possible under county zoning. We need to consider whether our quality of life (as well as our water supplies) would have a negative affect by the addition of the 27,000 more people and 18,000 new cars on our roads that produced under Prescott's agreement with the ranches.

So, by making all water users, including those on exempt wells, participate in a plan to manage our groundwater supplies we might clearly benefit by having the ranches remain in the county.

We can reach safe yield if necessary laws are enacted and we all work diligently together.

(Howard Mechanic is a Board member of Citizens for Reasonable Growth) Citizens Water Advocacy Group and the Open Space Alliance; and is a member of the Technical Advisory Committee of the AMA's Groundwater Users Advisory Committee's Safe Yield Subcommittee.)

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