Talk of the Town: City of Prescott has long-term stable water supply
The City of Prescott has spent the summer discussing complex municipal water policy that ensures long-term viability of our city’s water supply. We discussed the best, most reliable way to track our groundwater usage and protect it for the future. We talked about our city’s leadership in water conservation and continuing to have a long-term stable water supply.
Earlier this year, we hired two of the nation’s foremost water experts to study our water supply, and created scientific models for long-term planning purposes. The bottom line is this: Prescott’s water supply is in good shape for a few key reasons:
1 - The first reason is you. Despite the city’s growth of roughly 2% per year, residents and businesses are using less water today than they were more than a decade ago because households are smaller, appliances are more efficient and low water use landscaping has become the norm.
2 - The city’s reclamation and recharge efforts are working. In fact, almost 80% of Prescott homes and businesses are on the city’s sewer system which treats, recharges and returns water to the aquifer. Our goal is to get more homes on the city system, because it is the right thing to do for the environment.
3 - Surface water recharge volumes have steadily increased as capital projects have improved the reservoirs and delivery system. Thanks to that surface water, the city’s groundwater use has decreased from 5,893 acre feet in 2012 to an average of 3,900 acre feet now.
4 - Over the past two decades, the City Council and staff prioritized critical infrastructure maintenance to ensure water system leaks are minimal and our loss rate is well below municipal average and state requirements.
5 - Prescott has a Designation of Assured Water Supply from Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). This is the most secure level of water supply in the state. In order to receive this designation, the city had to prove that its supplies are real, physical water that will continue to exist for at least 100 years, not so-called “paper water.” Of the 16,507 acre feet of water allocated to us by ADWR, the city used only 6,733 acre feet from all sources last year.
With those facts as a baseline, we discussed policies and procedures to continue this trajectory and best protect our water moving forward. Our water experts presented a modern approach to measure, in real time, the amount of water a new business or home uses, eliminating the need for estimates and spreadsheet tracking. We adopted a new rebate program to encourage additional conservation, with increased incentives. We discussed ways to ensure even more than 60% of our water is being returned by way of our sewer system. We looked at ways for staff to both cut red tape and continue to protect our supply. We did all of this with an eye on the law to ensure we would not risk our current supply by adopting anything illegal.
We held a series of public study sessions, then we held a series of informal public meetings to answer questions and accept comments on how we can improve our proposed policy changes.
We understand that change is challenging for some, and there are those who will question the city’s motives. We firmly assert that these policies by themselves will not increase the rate of growth that Prescott has experienced for the past generation. I assure you that the city’s objective is to establish a sound water policy that will serve our citizens well into the future. The vast majority of the feedback we’ve received has been supportive, positive and encouraging. We know we are on the right track, but there’s more work to be done.
Personally, I’m proud of the work that’s been done. I’m proud to have taken a look at the best ways to conserve and manage water. I’m proud to explore opportunities to reduce bureaucracy and encourage efficient government. I want to thank you for being part of our summer of water. Citizens are welcome to comment. If you would like to submit a comment to us please email firstname.lastname@example.org or mail in a copy to: Water Policy Comments, 201 S. Cortez St., Prescott, AZ 86301.
Greg Mengarelli is the mayor of Prescott.