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Sat, Nov. 16

Safe yield report goes to councils, supervisors

PRESCOTT - A new report recommending ways the Prescott area can stop depleting its groundwater supplies will go to county, city and town boards for consideration and discussion.

The Upper Verde River Watershed Coalition discussed the report Wednesday. The coalition created a subcommittee made up of various stakeholders and its own technical experts to work on the report, which took 1.5 years to complete.

The subcommittee presented the report to the coalition at its last meeting two months ago.

The coalition agreed to send the report to the boards representing coalition members - Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, Prescott City Council, Prescott Valley Town Council, Chino Valley Town Council and Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe.

The subcommittee's new 25-page report concluded the Upper Verde Coalition should morph into a replenishment district to meet its goals of reaching safe yield while preserving the baseflow of the Upper Verde River.

Safe yield means a balance between the amount of groundwater going into the aquifer and out.

"The existing coalition structure will not be able to provide adequate funding or decision making unity in order to reach safe yield," the report's conclusion states.

A replenishment district "will be able to collect revenues necessary to implement a safe yield plan with its associated conservation, harvesting, recharge, and importation projects without stripping the relevant authorities of the current cities and towns," according to the report.

Prescott City Council Member and coalition member Mary Ann Suttles said she wanted direction from the council before commenting on the report's recommendations. She said she'll try to get a presentation about the report scheduled for the council within the next month.

Yavapai County Supervisor and coalition member Carol Springer said while the report was "concise and well done," she flat-out opposes any kind of water district. That's because groups of elected officials would have to concede part of their authority, she said.

Subcommittee member Howard Mechanic countered that the water district itself could have an elected board.

But its jurisdiction would overlap with other local governments and they all would have taxing authority on the same citizens, Springer said.

"A district can be custom designed to meet your needs," said subcommittee member Gary Beverly, a Sierra Club member. "This district allows you local control. Right now, you have no control. It's the Arizona Department of Water Resources."

The Department of Water Resources goal is for the 485-square-mile Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) to reach safe yield by 2025.

The subcommittee report estimates that the Prescott AMA is depleting its groundwater supplies by about 11,000 acre-feet annually, and that could increase to more than 15,000 af/year in the future.

Prescott Valley Town Council Member and coalition member Mike Flannery said it would be a "long and protracted legislative effort" to create a new regional water district.

Mechanic said he tried to find another way to successfully reach safe yield without creating a water district, but to no avail.

"There's no way to reach safe yield without being difficult," Mechanic said. A water district can work on long-term groundwater conservation, recharge and transportation projects while city councils can't bind future councils past two years, Mechanic said.

"It will cost more in the long run if we don't reach safe yield - that's something covered in the report," Mechanic said.

Without action to return to a more balanced aquifer use, the AMA faces the possibility of wells going dry, plummeting land values and tax revenues, damage to natural resources, geologic changes that could inhibit the aquifer's ability to hold groundwater, land subsidence and reduced attraction for future economic growth, the report concludes.

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