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10:56 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

City moves ahead with application for Big Chino water

PRESCOTT - Within the next seven to 12 months, Prescott could have an answer to a question crucial to its Big Chino Water Ranch pipeline plans: how much water is available on the city's Paulden-area ranchland?

The Prescott City Council Tuesday unanimously agreed to move forward with an application to the Arizona Department of Water Resources for a modification in the city's assured water supply.

The goal is to determine the amount of water that is "physically available" for importation on the ranchland that Prescott and Prescott Valley own northwest of Paulden.

While ADWR's timeframe for consideration of the application is 210 days, Herb Dishlip, the city's water consultant, noted that a number of factors could affect the schedule.

For instance, he said, the complexity of the new information about the Big Chino sub-basin could add to the application time, as could public opposition to the application.

"The big unknown is the protests," Dishlip told the council.

When the city applied to ADWR for an increase in its assured water supply in 2004, the process took more than a year.

While that application generated several protests, ADWR was able to resolve all of the issues without public hearings, Dishlip said, adding, "The timeframe for hearings could be extensive."

To ease the process this time, city and ADWR officials already have conducted a pre-application meeting, Dishlip said. "They will be familiar with what it is we're going to submit," he said of ADWR officials. "I'm optimistic that will speed things up."

Meanwhile, Big Chino Water Ranch Project Manager Jim Holt said the city would continue to work on the right-of-way acquisition for the 30-mile water pipeline.

"I would not characterize it at all that we're on hold," Holt said, in response to a council question about how the ADWR application would affect the pipeline schedule.

Since 2004, when Prescott and Prescott Valley bought the former JWK Ranch near Paulden, local officials have projected a July 2009 completion date for the pipeline.

Earlier this month, city officials acknowledged that the 2009 deadline no longer is realistic - in part, because of the City Council's desire to have a formal determination from ADWR on the amount of water available before beginning construction.

In 2003, the city received an "advisory opinion" from ADWR that tentatively set the amount of water Prescott could import from the Big Chino at 8,717 acre-feet per year. Since then, the city has used that number as the quantity it plans to eventually import into the tri-city area.

Noting that the 2003 letter "was not a final decision," Holt said the assured water supply modification would set the physical availability at a "much greater standard than a letter of opinion. It would be the highest degree of certainty."

Councilman Robert Luzius, who has questioned the city's position on the Big Chino in the past, pointed out that he does not oppose the pipeline, but rather has concerns about building it if the water were not available.

"I think this is a step in the right direction," Luzius said of the application to ADWR, "and I will vote for it."

The council ultimately voted 6-0 to proceed with the application. Councilman Bob Roecker was absent.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com