Water group criticizes perceived Safe Yield inaction
PRESCOTT - The president of a local water group and a co-author of an Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition report criticized the coalition last week for alleged lack of action related to the six-month-old report.
The coalition created the Safe Yield Workgroup to produce a report outlining how the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) might reach safe yield, which is a balance between the amount of groundwater coming into and going out of the 485-square-mile Prescott AMA.
The subcommittee's new 25-page report concluded the Upper Verde Coalition should morph into a replenishment district to meet its stated goal of reaching safe yield while preserving the baseflow of the Upper Verde River. The coalition formed in 2006.
"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.
The report recommended that the coalition ask its technical experts to outline how to create a successful district.
During the "call to the public" at the start of last Wednesday's coalition meeting, John Zambrano, president of the local Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG), predicted the report will sit on a shelf and collect dust like a similar report from a citizens ad-hoc subcommittee of the Prescott AMA Groundwater Users Advisory Council.
Zambrano asked the coalition its next course of action to meet its safe yield goal.
"We hear a lot about saddling the next generation with our national debt," Zambrano said. "Is it fair to saddle them with our water debt?
"What is your plan? We need you folks to lead."
The workgroup's report estimates that the Prescott AMA has been depleting its groundwater supplies by about 11,000 acre-feet annually for at least 11 years, and that could increase to more than 15,000 af/year in the future. That equals about 4.9 billion gallons of water.
The report also estimated it could cost $206 million to reach safe yield at the AMA's current population.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources goal is for the Prescott AMA to reach safe yield by 2025, after declaring in 1999 the AMA was out of safe yield.
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.
CWAG member Howard Mechanic, who served on the Safe Yield Workgroup, told the coalition board last Wednesday that he felt like the coalition's member boards "soundly rejected" the report. He asked the coalition board to schedule a talk about its next step during its October meeting.
The coalition board members did not respond directly to his request.
The coalition workgroup was made up of citizen representatives of environmental concerns, citizens water groups, private water company and well interests, growth interests and landscaping/nursery interests. The coalition's technical experts also helped produce the study.
The coalition board members representing local municipal, tribal and county governments decided in May to send the report to the elected boards of its respective members before discussing it at a coalition meeting.
The coalition board hasn't discussed what to do with the report since its member boards reviewed it.
None of the member boards expressed direct support for the district, although Chino Valley Mayor Jim Bunker said at Wednesday's coalition meeting his council is willing to consider the idea.
"That really was the consensus of the Chino Council... that we continue to look at the possibility of a district," Bunker said.
Prescott City Council Member Mary Ann Suttles said her council didn't reject the report, either. It will be "one more tool in the toolbox."
Prescott Valley Town Council Member Mike Flannery said it's unfair to assume the coalition members have rejected the report just because they didn't express support for the district.