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Thu, Nov. 14

Prescott candidates' views evolve on future of Big Chino Water Ranch

The Verde Valley River head waters in the Big Chino Sub-Basin area north of Chino Valley. (Courier file photo)

The Verde Valley River head waters in the Big Chino Sub-Basin area north of Chino Valley. (Courier file photo)

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a series of questions that The Daily Courier posed to the five candidates running for Prescott City Council, leading up to the Aug. 27 primary.

A full decade and a half has gone by since the conception of the Big Chino Water Ranch, and Prescott officials are now questioning whether the water pipeline is necessary at all.

Back in 2004, Prescott and its partner Prescott Valley bought a tract of ranchland northwest of Paulden. The goal was to build a pipeline that would allow the two communities to annually import thousands of acre-feet of water from the Big Chino Basin.

At the time, officials estimated that construction on the massive pipeline project would be underway by as early as 2009. Over the years, however, a number of factors, including the Great Recession of 2008, served to postpone the start of the project.

Then in 2012, the plans were officially put on hold when Prescott and Prescott Valley, along with the Salt River Project, agreed to an eight-year monitoring and groundwater modeling process to determine whether the water importation would affect the flow of the Verde River.

During the Prescott City Council election season two years ago, most 2017 council candidates said any decision on the pipeline would have to wait until after the final modeling and monitoring results are in.

Now, views have evolved again, as questions have arisen on whether the community will need the imported water at all in the foreseeable future.

New water studies have indicated that Prescott’s water use is on a downward trend, even as the population has increased. Officials attribute the decrease in water use, in part, to a successful water- conservation program.

That, in turn, has led to questions about whether the imported water from the Big Chino Basin will be needed to handle Prescott’s projected growth.

Here, Prescott Mayor and City Council candidates discuss their views on the Big Chino pipeline, and whether it is still feasible and/or needed:

What is the future of the Big Chino Water Ranch? Will the pipeline ever become a reality, and how would you pay for it?

COUNCIL CANDIDATES

Billie Orr: With the accurate information that we now have about Prescott’s water portfolio and forecast based on actual water usage/recharge, we know that at full build-out in Prescott, we have enough water without tapping the Big Chino. However, the Big Chino Water Ranch is a great insurance policy. When and if the time comes to consider a pipeline, we will need to collaborate within the region. Growth should pay for growth.

Jim Lamerson: I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll never need it. Nice to have in the portfolio just in case.

Cathey Rusing: CWAG (Citizens Water Advocacy Group) studies prove the interconnection of the Little and Big Chino aquifers. Despite Prescott’s water conservation and recharge efforts across the shared-use area, we use twice the water as is being recharged into the Little Chino Aquifer. Therefore, Prescott needs to retain our rights to BCWR (Big Chino Water Ranch). Prescott’s new pro-growth water policy, and the rapid expansion of neighboring communities, may necessitate future pipeline construction by taxing the citizens and businesses.

Steve Sischka: Knowing what we know now about our current water situation, I don’t foresee ever needing the Big Chino Water Ranch to supplement Prescott’s water needs. I guess never say never, but we can easily take care of future water needs forecast by our General Plan with the water we have available now. Our water smart policies and required low- water-use development standards will continue to point that direction in the future.

MAYOR CANDIDATE

Greg Mengarelli: We have commissioned two water studies in the past six months and both of them (particularly the Dishlip study) have found that we don’t need water from the Big Chino Water Ranch. The BCWR is a great asset for the city to own and leverage in the future. Our friends in Prescott Valley are partners with us, so we will need to confer with them regarding the future of the BCWR.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2034, or cbarks@prescottaz.com.

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