Citizens suggest ways for Prescott area to stop depleting the aquifer: Rainwater harvesting the best chance to achieve safe yield, experts say
PRESCOTT - Environmental groups and local officials offered ideas Tuesday about how the new 10-year water management plan for the Prescott region can help people stop depleting groundwater supplies.
The plan will evaluate what new laws and policies might be needed to help the area stop depleting its groundwater supply, Statewide Active Management Area Director J. Scott Miller said.
The Tuesday meeting solicited public comments about how the Department of Water Resources should proceed on developing the new 10-year plan. The Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) Groundwater Users Advisory Council, a group of local elected officials and water experts that advises the Arizona Department of Water Resources on Prescott AMA issues, hosted the meeting.
Miller heard plenty of ideas from two PowerPoint presentations by the local Citizens Water Advocacy Group and a multi-state environmental group called Western Resource Advocates.
The Prescott AMA has not been making progress on the state-mandated goal to stop depleting its groundwater supplies by 2025, what advocates call "safe yield." The Prescott AMA registered groundwater overdrafts during eight of the 11 years between 2000 and 2010. The AMA covers 485 square miles and includes Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley.
The state's "groundwater allowance" policy for water providers fosters legal depletion of aquifers, said Linda Stitzer of the Western Resource Advocates.
The local Citizens Water Advisory Group wants a more aggressive approach for the fourth 10-year management plan, its President John Zambrano said.
"It really wasn't adequate to get us on the path of safe yield," he said of the third management plan. He urged local governments to produce a united plan for safe yield. Prescott Valley Town Council member Lora Lee Nye agreed that's a good idea.
Groundwater Users Advisory Council (GUAC) member John Olsen noted that his group produced a report about the impediments to safe yield, and he suggested the state use that in producing the new plan.
"The fourth management plan is a very good focal point to cause that to happen," Prescott Valley Town Manager Larry Tarkowski added.
The three management plans have steadily increased water conservation requirements, but the new plan
must take a new look at what else the region must do to reach safe yield by 2025, Miller said. That includes evaluating what new laws and policies might help.
The public can send ideas to Arizona Department of Water Resources Public Information Officer Michelle Moreno at email@example.com.
Tarkowski urged the state officials not to set a per-resident daily water use goal so low that Prescott Valley and Prescott can't broaden their economies that now depend too much on housing development and tourism.
"Growth is not a sustainable industry for the long term," Tarkowski said.
Prescott City Council member Steve Blair said the burden for reaching safe yield is placed too much on the Prescott AMA's only two large water providers, Prescott and Prescott Valley.
The management plan also should require residential well owners, Verde River irrigation ditch users and small rural water providers to do their part, Blair said.
"Put teeth in the plan across the board equally," he said.
The state does not regulate residential wells, which make up most of the water use in Chino Valley.
"We're an undisciplined lot," said Chino Town Council Member Carl Tenney, a GUAC member. "But we do need to learn how to conserve."
Several people said the development of large-scale rainwater harvesting facilities will be key to any successful effort to reach safe yield locally.
The Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition, a coalition of local governments, has initiated a pilot project to test ways to harvest rainwater on a large scale and direct it back into the aquifer in Chino Valley.
"That's going to be the best bet to get to safe yield," Tenney said.
"We have huge potential," agreed Doug McMillan, a retired civil engineer who helped design the pilot project. He calculated that increasing rainwater recharge by just one percent would cover the current annual Prescott AMA groundwater depletion rate. He estimated 98 percent of local rains end up evaporating or being used by plants.
Granite Creek below Prescott is a perfect place to direct rainwater to recharge the aquifer because of its deep permeable sand deposits, he said.
Prescott's two dams now hold back much of the natural recharge from the creek bed below, he added.