Originally Published: February 27, 2010 10:11 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Two weeks after approval of a landmark settlement on use of water in the Big Chino Sub-Basin, the involved parties have waded into the complex tasks that were a part of the pact.
Officials with the City of Prescott, the Town of Prescott Valley and the Salt River Project reported Friday that along with the work that is under way to amend a 1991 statute regarding Big Chino water, they also are embarking on other steps that must take place in conjunction with the statute amendment.
On Feb. 11, the Prescott City Council and Prescott Valley Town Council met in a joint session to approve an "agreement in principle" that put the two communities in accord with their long-time water rival, the Phoenix-area utility company Salt River Project (SRP).
Among other things, the agreement stated: "The parties desire to mutually address various interests and issues, and achieve certain objectives related to the withdrawal and use of water from the Big Chino Sub-Basin, including protection of the stream flow in the Upper Verde River, in a responsible manner."
Craig McConnell, regional programs director for the City of Prescott, explained Friday that, "There are three parts to consummation of the legislation."
The first, he said, involves coming to agreement on the text for the amendment to the 19-year-old state statute that gave Prescott authority to import water from the Paulden-area Big Chino Sub-basin.
Next is an agreement between the parties on monitoring and modeling of the Big Chino area.
The third is a basic agreement on how to proceed with mitigation of any impacts that the Prescott/Prescott Valley pumping might have on the nearby Verde River.
McConnell and Prescott Valley Water Resources Manager John Munderloh both pointed out that the two communities already have done considerable work on monitoring groundwater in the Big Chino area.
The two communities have spent about $500,000 so far on monitoring efforts, including the drilling of wells, McConnell said, and he estimates the cost of future monitoring efforts at $1.3 million.
McConnell and SRP spokesman Jeff Lane agreed that preliminary discussions have proposed splitting the cost of the future monitoring, with the two communities paying two-thirds of the cost, and SRP paying one-third.
In addition, McConnell said, the recurring expense for maintaining the monitoring would be about $150,000 per year. That would cover tasks such as downloading data, analyzing it and creating reports.
Munderloh noted that future monitoring likely would go beyond analyzing groundwater. "We also need to know what's going on with precipitation and stream flow," he said.
On the mitigation issue, all sides report that the work is just beginning and few details are available.
"We're very early in our process," Munderloh said. "It's not something you develop overnight. We just don't have the specifics."
While Munderloh was doubtful that the involved parties would have a full mitigation plan in effect before the expected decision on the legislation this spring or summer, he said he expects the initial discussions to "develop concepts that will launch our work."
While mitigation has long been a point of contention between Prescott/Prescott Valley and opponents of the pumping plan, Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall was hopeful Friday that the agreement had ushered in a new era.
"The moods have changed, and we now have three parties looking for a solution, rather than an argument," Kuykendall said, maintaining that "by sharing information," the involved parties would be able to move forward on mitigation.
Lane also expressed optimism for the results. Noting that the first meeting on the matter would take place on March 5, he said, "The talks we've had so far in setting up the meetings have been very cordial, and we expect it to have a positive outcome."
Legal issues arose soon after Prescott and Prescott Valley partnered on the 2004 purchase of ranchland northwest of Paulden for its Big Chino Water Ranch. The two communities plan a 30-mile water pipeline to transport water from the ranch.
SRP, which claims senior downstream rights to Verde River water, has maintained that the large-scale pumping in the Big Chino Basin, could harm the flow of the Verde River.
Ultimately, the matter ended up in court. The Feb. 11 agreement was an attempt by both sides to resolve the matter outside of the courtroom.