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Sat, Feb. 22

Top water official responds to water group concerns

PRESCOTT - The state directive for the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) to stop depleting its groundwater supply by 2025 is a goal, but not a requirement, a top state official reiterated recently.

Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition members discussed that point briefly Wednesday while reviewing recent correspondence between John Zambrano, vice president of the local Citizens Water Advocacy Group, and Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer said some people don't realize the safe-yield goal "is not a mandate and there are no penalties." The county, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe and four Prescott-area municipalities are coalition members.

The coalition's technical advisers will review the letters and let the coalition know if it recommends more discussion.

Zambrano asked Guenther numerous technical questions in his October letter, and received detailed responses from Guenther in December. Zambrano then responded to Guenther's comments in a Jan. 10 letter.

"By using the term 'goal' in the definition of safe-yield, the Legislature clearly did not intend to require compliance with safe-yield in a regulatory sense, with sanctions imposed on persons if safe-yield is not achieved," Guenther wrote.

However, the Legislature directed his agency to develop conservation and assured water supply requirements, and compliance with those requirements is mandatory for certain entities in the Prescott AMA, Guenther added.

Zambrano said his citizens group is concerned that the Prescott AMA is moving farther away from attaining safe-yield since the state agency determined in 1999 that AMA residents are depleting their groundwater supply. That declaration included a requirement to use "alternative" water supplies instead of AMA groundwater for municipalities and new subdivisions.

Voluntary action is not likely to lead to safe-yield, Zambrano said.

The state's Groundwater Code defines safe-yield as a long-term balance between groundwater that goes out of the aquifer and the amount of natural and artificial recharge.

Zambrano expressed concern that the state's safe-yield definition doesn't specify how much groundwater the Prescott AMA needs to contribute to the baseflow of the Upper Verde River that depends on baseflow during dry times.

The state department recently started working on an "assessment" of each AMA's progress toward meeting its management goal, Guenther wrote. The state has five AMAs, where water-use regulations are stricter because of their relatively high human populations.

The Prescott AMA assessment "will provide valuable information on where the AMA stands today with respect to safe-yield and how much needs to be done to achieve safe-yield by 2025," Guenther said.

The assessment also will help the department with its upcoming work on the next 10-year management plan for the Prescott AMA, he added.

"Because of the many factors that have led to the AMA being out of safe-yield, achievement of safe-yield in the AMA will not be an easy task," Guenther added.

Prescott AMA water users face the difficult task of deciding how to share the AMA's natural recharge, Zambrano said.

"The department does not believe it is appropriate to divide the natural recharge among individual water users in the AMA," Guenther said.

Zambrano said his group is disappointed with that response. The Prescott AMA users must allocate natural recharge within any plan to reach safe-yield, he said.

Zambrano also asked if the state will let the Prescott AMA continue to use alternative water supplies for new development after 2025 if the AMA has not achieved safe yield.

The response was "yes."

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