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5:37 AM Thu, Sept. 20th

City seeks clarity on exempt wells

PRESCOTT ­ When City Councilman Jim Lamerson suggested two resolutions concerning exempt wells this past week, he said his goal was to get a dialogue going on the issue.

This week, other council members assured Lamerson that he had succeeded in his goal.

"You wanted to get people talking," said Mayor Rowle Simmons, "and you did just that."

In fact, Tuesday's discussion on the two resolutions, which urge the state to impose more restrictions on individual water wells, attracted two of the area's state legislators, Reps. Lucy Mason and Tom O'Halleran, to the City Council meeting.

Both legislators assured the council members that the resolutions would be useful at the state level to help frame the discussion about exempt wells.

"I personally would appreciate any support (on the issue)," O'Halleran told the council. "It's a difficult issue statewide, and your voice at the Legislature would be helpful."

He added that the city's involvement might help to speed along a debate that so far has moved at a "glacier pace."

Mason agreed that the city's resolutions would be a "good start" in the discourse on exempt wells. "The more local the dialogue, the better," she said. "I want to see your resolution and run it by our colleagues (at the Legislature)."

Added Mason: "These resolutions are a good idea."

Ultimately, the council tabled its discussion on the two resolutions and asked City Attorney Gary Kidd to bring back simplified versions of the resolutions. After the meeting, Kidd said he also planned to draft a policy letter that would outline the council's views, in the event the council opts for a letter rather than the resolutions.

The council kicked off this week's discussion by deliberating whether they should first submit the resolutions to local water groups, such as the Groundwater Users Advisory Council of Yavapai County ­ a move that Simmons said might be effective in getting regional support.

But Lamerson pushed for a direct approach. "I don't think we need to back-pedal," he said. "We need to bite the bullet and get this done."

The matter also generated comments from a number of audience members, who continued to have concerns about the first resolution, which urges the state to impose similar water-quality standards on future exempt wells as the city faces.

Local resident Ken Janecek, for instance, maintained that the resolution dealing with future arsenic treatment would serve as a "red herring" that would divert attention from the second resolution, which deals with safe yield (the condition in which balance exists between the amount of groundwater the area is pumping and amount of water going back into the ground).

Local resident Howard Mechanic agreed. He pushed for a simple resolution that would deal with safe yield, and would ask that all water users in the Prescott Active Management Area take responsibility for their own water use. Mechanic maintained that the resolution on water quality and arsenic treatment would "confuse the issue."

The matter should be back on the agenda for the council's Tuesday meeting.

Local officials have long contended that exempt wells, which do not face the same state groundwater restrictions as municipal water systems, have a major impact on the aquifer, as well as on local efforts to reach safe yield. The second resolution asks the state to "establish a fee for future exempt wells to be used to offset the anticipated draft upon the aquiferŠ"

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com