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Sun, Sept. 22

Rainwater harvesting bill to get hearing

The Daily Courier file photo<br>
MacRae Nicoll, owner of High Desert Rain, puts a second coat of paint on a 550-gallon rainwater catchment system at a Prescott home in 2007.

The Daily Courier file photo<br> MacRae Nicoll, owner of High Desert Rain, puts a second coat of paint on a 550-gallon rainwater catchment system at a Prescott home in 2007.

Legislation that would allow large-scale rainwater harvesting projects to receive groundwater use credits is scheduled for a House Agriculture and Water Committee hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday.

But to get that hearing, the bill will have to look much different than it does today.

"As it was, I wasn't interested in hearing it," said House Ag and Water Committee Chair Russell Jones, R-Yuma. "I'm reluctant to put legislation forward that could change the balance of water in Arizona."

He said about a dozen major water players in the state have contacted him to voice opposition to the bill, and no stakeholder meetings have taken place to sort out their concerns.

He said he will hear Senate Bill 1522 Thursday if it turns into a bill to study the viability of giving water rights to rainwater harvesting projects. This is the last week for House committees to hear Senate bills.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Acting Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney said her agency has drafted an amendment for the committee's consideration. ADWR also would prefer a pilot project study first, she said.

The current wording of SB 1522 seeks a major change in Arizona water law, creating a new fourth type of water right called harvested rainwater. Sen. Steve Pierce of rural Prescott is sponsoring the bill, while representatives Andy Tobin of Paulden and Karen Fann of Prescott are co-sponsors.

Water suppliers could get groundwater credits in exchange for large-scale rainwater harvesting. For every two acre-feet of rainwater a subdivision could harvest, for example, it could pump one acre-foot of groundwater.

Currently in the 485-square-mile Prescott Active Management Area, the state won't allow new subdivisions to use groundwater because the Prescott AMA is depleting its groundwater supply. However, groundwater use here still is increasing because individuals can drill their own wells.

Jones and Fabritz-Whitney said they want to see a pilot project that runs at least a few years to prove that harvesting rainwater won't affect existing downstream water rights.

"Someone's harvested water may be someone else's groundwater resources," Jones said.

The amendment won't include any money for the study, Jones added.

It could cost $1 million to conduct the study, create rules to govern a new water right and implement the rules, Fabritz-Whitney said.

Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer came up with the idea for the bill, and she's hoping potential subdivision developers will step up to the plate and conduct the pilot project to prove the technology works before the state implements the new rules.

But she believes that's possible without changing the legislation, and she's hoping that citizens will come to the hearing or contact Jones to voice their support for the bill. She's not happy that ADWR isn't supporting it.

"I'm obviously very disappointed because I still think DWR is responsible to help us with our water problems, not be a barrier to it," Springer said.

"We're going to continue to develop, with or without water harvesting," Springer added, because the household wells are exempt from any groundwater use restrictions.

Tobin, who helped the bill get a hearing Thursday, said he supports the bill as written but ADWR is worried about getting sued.

ADWR does not oppose the idea, Fabritz-Whitney said.

"If this is a viable alternative, we're all for it," she said. However, she said it needs study because a rainwater harvesting water right is a new concept.

"It is an old way of collecting rain," Pierce said. "It is an excellent idea that needs to be explored.

"I think it has a big future."

Springer said rainwater harvesting could be an alternative to Prescott's controversial plan to use groundwater from the neighboring Big Chino aquifer, which scientists say supplies most of the base flow for the Upper Verde River.

The Civiltec engineering firm in Prescott has designed a water harvesting pilot study for the Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition, a coalition of local governments.

Civiltec engineers calculated that if the Prescott AMA could capture annual rainfall in just a three-by-six-mile area, it could eliminate the AMA's annual groundwater overdraft of about 11,000 acre-feet.

The Prescott region loses more than 98 percent of its precipitation to evapotranspiration - a combination of evaporation and plant transpiration, Civiltec calculated.

That adds up to more than 407,000 acre-feet of water each year - more than 17 times what people use in the Prescott

AMA.

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