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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

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12/27/2012 10:31:00 AM
Could water issues destroy regional cooperation in 2013?
ĎThey donít want the modeling run because they donít want to know what the answer isí -- Chip Davis
ĎThey donít want the modeling run because they donít want to know what the answer isí

-- Chip Davis
By Joanna Dodder Nellans
Contributing Reporter

Relations between the two sides of Mingus Mountain on critical water issues appear to be deteriorating as 2012 comes to a close.

Prescott and Prescott Valley government leaders said during a special meeting last week that they are considering leaving the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee, which was created in 1999 to foster better relations on water issues between the Verde Valley and Prescott area.

The Prescott and PV councils unanimously voted this past Wednesday to ask the water committee to conduct a retreat by February to review its mission and other plans "in order to assist participating local governments in assessing continuation" of the committee.

Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis and Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, Verde Valley officials who have both been closely involved in local water issues for more than a decade, later said they'd be glad to participate in a retreat. They didn't know about the Wednesday meeting.

Prescott and PV officials apparently posted the Wednesday meeting agenda about a day before it took place, but made no effort to publicize it or tell fellow water committee members.

Prescott City Council Member Steve Blair co-chairs the water committee and PV's representative is Council Member Lora Lee Nye. Both are relatively new to the committee compared to Verde members.

Blair said the water committee needs "to come to some decision about whether we want to split the two groups."

He also expressed concerns about having all five county supervisors on the water committee when the Board of Supervisors grows from three to five members in January.

"Recently I've become very concerned ... because we've departed from what I consider our goals are," Nye said. "The biggest problem I'm having is the impasse at the Water Advisory Committee meetings."

When asked after the meeting to define her strongest concern, Nye said the water committee "hasn't accomplished anything in months and months."

The committee has been in somewhat of a holding pattern while the U.S. Geological Survey conducts tests on the accuracy of the computer model of the Verde River Basin the USGS released in April 2011.

Prescott and PV formally requested the calibration tests before the model is used to run future growth scenarios about how human population growth might affect the flow of the Verde River.

The Prescott and PV officials are concerned that the scenarios might indicate that their plan to pump groundwater from the Big Chino Aquifer could hurt the flow of the Upper Verde River. Scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies at least 80 percent of the river's flow.

"They don't want the modeling run because they don't want to know what the answer is," Davis said.

The USGS has now finished the analysis that the Prescott area requested. The USGS said the tests didn't change outcomes in a major way, and concluded that the model has about a 5 percent range of uncertainty in the Big Chino. The water committee's technical experts are now drafting a "white paper" explaining the process.

Verde officials including Davis and Von Gausig have stated that the water committee should move ahead on running the scenarios the committee already unanimously agreed to and paid for years ago.

Nye and Blair both said after Wednesday's meeting that they are tired of hearing Verde officials say that. Maybe they should go ahead and run the scenarios for just the Middle Verde in the Verde Valley, Nye and Blair said.

It would be better to wait for several years and gather more well level information before running the scenarios, Blair said. In the past he's also stated the committee should wait several years until Prescott and PV commission their own groundwater model of the Big Chino under a new agreement with the Salt River Project, which provides much of the water for the Phoenix area.

Prescott is doing more than any Verde River Basin community to lower its water use, Blair said.

"They have their own backyard to clean up before they play in our backyard," Blair said.

The Verde needs to look at its own problems such as irrigation ditches and riparian trees draining the Verde, he explained.

"If they don't think those cottonwoods are taking their fair share out of the Verde, we're all missing the boat somewhere," Blair said at Wednesday's meeting.

When he heard about that statement, Von Gausig gave out a hearty chuckle, saying the riparian corridor along the Verde is what Verde Valley residents want to preserve.

He doesn't think the water committee should split up.

"I haven't seen anything I didn't think could be worked out," he said.

The committee has been working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to wrap up a draft study by the end of 2012 about possible ways to acquire 45,000 acre-feet of new water supplies by 2050 to keep up with demand in the region.

Other water study efforts

Prescott Valley Water Resources Manager John Munderloh told the Prescott and PV officials that other groups such as the Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association and the Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition have been effective.

He noted that the Upper Verde Coalition has designed a pilot study to test large-scale methods of capturing rainwater in Chino Valley before it evaporates and recharge it into the aquifer.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed Senate Bill 1236 this year that authorizes the Arizona Department of Water Resources to conduct large-scale water harvesting pilot projects in Yavapai and Cochise counties, although money is not included.

The governor also signed HB2363 this year. It creates the 29-member Joint Legislative Study Committee on Macro-Harvested Water to study the issues surrounding large-scale rainwater harvesting.

For example, Prescott Active Management Area water providers would like to get state groundwater credits for recharge projects, but surface water rights holders and some environmental groups are concerned that the projects might divert water that otherwise would flow into streams.

The legislative committee is supposed to produce a final report by Sept. 30, 2013.

The Upper Verde Coalition also received an $85,000 grant from the Bureau of Reclamation this year to create a watershed restoration plan, Munderloh noted.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012
Article comment by: Blair misses the exact point why the Verde River is so valuable!

"riparian trees draining the Verde," he (Blair) explained. The Verde River is supposed to have riparian trees. Blair showing his ignorance about ecosytems and how they intertwine together with the Verde River. All he sees is taking the water, with no concern what it would do to the environment.

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012
Article comment by: kenny mollohan

There has to be somewhere close to build a dam. It might ruffle some environmentalist feathers but would solve a lot of issues, like water, jobs, and electricity

Posted: Friday, December 28, 2012
Article comment by: Cogito Ergosumatra

@Mr. Maverick: Huh?

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: Carl Nye - Jerome

"If they don't think those cottonwoods are taking their fair share out of the Verde, we're all missing the boat somewhere," Blair said at Wednesday's meeting.

If anyone, or thing, ought to have a "fair share" of the Verde River's water, I think it would be the trees, some of which may be the original users of the water before these pesky humans arrived.

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: Mr Maverick

In Prescott we were fighting for our water. Then the Republicans got back into office. Now we quit fighting and just let SRP take over.

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