State candidates offer thoughts on water
Solutions range from hydroponics, metered wells to teeth in laws, conservation efforts
An attentive audience at Saturday’s candidate forum on water issues posed some pointed questions to the Citizens Water Advocacy Group (CWAG), sponsor of the forum that took place at the Granite Peak Universalist Unitarian Church Congregation.
The seven candidates for state seats, for the most part, had clearly done their research, said Leslie Hoy, CWAG public relations spokesperson. “There was some misinformation, but CWAG will answer the questions and do some fact checking,” Hoy said.
The questions and answers posed by CWAG and the audience will be posted on the website cwagaz.org Sunday, she added, in addition to the video of the event. Candidates had CWAG’s questions ahead of the event.
The forum focused on local water issues and matters the Arizona legislature needs to tackle, Gary Beverly said at the beginning. He encouraged a “conversation” between candidates; they were free to comment on each other’s responses. He admonished the audience of more than 170 attendees not to shout, cheer, applaud or weep at those responses.
Present were Arizona House incumbents Noel Campbell and David Stringer, and challengers Jodi Rooney, Jan Manolis and Ed Gogek; and Senate incumbent Karen Fann and challenger Jo Craycraft.
Water issues within the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) include pumping more water out of the aquifers than is recharged, declining levels of groundwater which impacts residential wells, and laws in which the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) continues to issue certificates of 100-year assured water supply. In an early question, Beverly asked candidates to speak to population growth and legislation.
Manolis questioned how anyone can predict water needs 100 years from now with unknown changes in economy, climate and population demands on water resources. She suggested a temporary halt in issuing 100-year assured water supply certificates until a full understanding exists between groundwater and surface water, conservation, management and education – all are critical, she said.
Craycraft would like water laws to be based more on water science, and wants legislators to be more responsible in protecting wildlife and the Verde River. “Groundwater management must be viewed not only in years, but in decades,” she said.
Stringer said 100 years from now water will be abundant. However, in the short and medium term, there is a problem, he added. He would like to see more desalination plants built, and acknowledged the high cost and methods of transporting water with this system.
Fann indicated that 60 percent of water use is for outdoor purposes, and she would like to see macro and micro conservation efforts put in place. In addition, she said there should be a way to capture snowmelt from Mingus Mountain, and suggested more use of hydroponics in agriculture.
Gogek would like to see more “teeth in the law,” no new development until there is safe yield, and tax breaks for people who use rainwater harvesting and desert landscaping. “We will reach a point where not everyone will be able to afford it. We must keep water affordable and available for everyone,” he said.
Ranchers using large sprinkler systems during the day lose 75 percent of the water through evaporation, Campbell said. He wants to appeal to agricultural and cattlemen’s altruistic feelings as an incentive – a carrot – to make changes rather than use a stick.
Rooney reminded the audience that the state allocated water to developments applying for water prior to 1999 in Prescott Valley, one being the Granville subdivision.
The recent Jasper development, she said, is working on getting enough water credits. She wants the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act’s goal of safe yield (a balance between the amount of groundwater withdrawn to the amount of natural and artificial recharge) to extend beyond 2025, the intended end date.
With the remaining questions, Beverly said he was interested in the candidates’ “thought patterns and philosophies.”
Domestic wells are not required to be metered, Campbell said, “So anybody can use what they want.” He would like to see that changed even though it may not be popular with the 10,000 private well owners. He is concerned about the initial fill and ongoing water replacement for evaporation with the proposed energy water pumping station in northern Yavapai County. He supports a tiered water use rate.
“As use goes up, residents pay more and will change their behavior,” he said. He also proposed that septic system owners have their tanks pumped every month and the contents transported to wastewater plants for recharge.
Stringer said water levels in the Verde River are stable and there is no water crisis. He does not approve of drastic measures for all because some Chino Valley residents’ wells are going dry. “They can drill deeper, but when that’s not practical, they can import water,” he said. “There’s fear and misunderstanding in certain elements of the community. It’s never, ever going to dry up completely. You are never going to open up your spigot and it’s going to be dry.” He asked people not to reflexively rule out the storage pumping station or the Big Chino pipeline, but to wait for scientific studies on both projects.
Gogek said, with Maricopa County having two-thirds of the state population, “We should be concerned they don’t have a water shortage because they will be looking at taking ours.” He said the state needs to take the issue seriously. “Right now there are plans for a lot of straws in this aquifer. We don’t have a good plan,” he said. “Conservation is always the cheapest fix. Conserve, reuse, recycle.”
Manolis would like better coordination to happen between the state and local entities. She supports conservation measures that include drought-resistant landscaping, rainwater harvesting, reuse of wastewater, and storm water management for recharge. “We also need to look at groundwater pumping,” she said.
Rooney wants legislators to consider a balance between developers’ rights and water conservation, keeping conservation actions voluntary for now. “We all have a vested interest in protecting the Verde River,” she said. She supports the tiered water use-rate approach in Prescott Valley, saying it is economic, working, and people like it.
Fann stated that “things aren’t done overnight” in the legislature, and she’d like to see more regional cooperation. Chino Valley residents are worried about the amount of water pumped from seven wells in the center of town for use by the City of Prescott, she said. “We’re all in that bowl of water (Little Chino aquifer). Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, we’re all drinking out of that bowl of water.”
Craycraft said right now property owners can pump as much water as they want and she would like to see some regulation occur in the Big Chino aquifer. “But a new regulatory water district is not the best answer. We need to improve the water laws and better fund ADWR to more efficiently manage protection of perennial streams,” she said, adding that she would like to see a local ADWR office in northern Arizona.
Beverly said CWAG can advocate for policy, but it cannot endorse or recommend any candidate. The CWAG website early next week will correct any misinformation presented by candidates, Hoy said.