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4:49 AM Mon, Nov. 19th

Prescott lifts strict water restrictions

PRESCOTT - The community apparently averted a possible crisis situation over the weekend.

On Monday - after dealing with a downed pump on its highest-production water well, as well as a holiday weekend of hot, dry weather - the City of Prescott was able to lift the stringent water restrictions that went into effect late Friday afternoon.

City Manager Steve Norwood imposed the restrictions in response to a malfunctioning pump on the city's water well No. 4 in Chino Valley. He lifted them at 8 p.m. Monday.

Norwood's "Level 3" emergency, which prohibited most outdoor water uses, was more restrictive than the emergencies he has declared in past summers in the wake of rising water usage.

"Typically, we go to a Level 2," Norwood said Monday. "Level 3 is pretty strong."

While the city's water storage tanks "did drop to about one-half of what they should be," Norwood said the restrictions, along with consumer restraint, helped keep the situation under control.

"(Water levels) never got to the point where we were really concerned," Norwood said.

For city officials, the faulty water pump brought up two major concerns: The possibility of a break in a water main, and the danger of a structure or forest fire. Either situation could drain large amounts of water, which further depletes the city's supply.

While past water emergencies have restricted irrigation to every other day, the restrictions over the weekend prohibited all irrigation, including drip and spray.

That posed a problem for gardeners and landscapers, who were unable to irrigate their plants for more than three days.

Jeff Schalau, associate agent for agriculture and natural resources for the University of Arizona Extension office, said the restrictions probably proved fatal to area plants.

"Some plants could have died, if (gardeners) went along with the restrictions," Schalau said Monday. For instance, he said, "If they had freshly planted annual flowers, I'm pretty sure they lost them."

More established plants might have weathered the dry, hot conditions, he said - especially if the gardeners mulched around the plants in advance.

Schalau speculated many area gardeners probably prioritized their outdoor water, rather than completely ceasing irrigation. "I think a lot of people probably made a decision not to water their lawns," he said, but decided to continue to spot-water their other plants.

The good news is that the situation likely caused local gardeners to re-evaluate their true water needs, Schalau said. "It's always good to get a reminder on water conservation," he said.

Norwood stressed that a number of city departments and private companies responded quickly and worked together to replace the pump as soon as possible.

A city press release acknowledged the work of the city's utilities operations division, as well as the police department, fire department, and code enforcement department.

In addition, the city had help from various companies, including the Weber Group of Chandler, Pump Systems of Gilbert, Simflo Pumps of Wilcox, and Kelly Pipe of Phoenix.

Norwood said work continued until about midnight Saturday, and then got started again early Sunday morning. Workers had the new pump replaced by later Sunday.

On Monday, Norwood was still uncertain about what caused the problem, but he expected to have more answers by today's Prescott City Council meeting.

The repairs will cost the city about $100,000, Norwood said.