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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : local July 22, 2014

11/30/2012 10:00:00 PM
New legislation could help rural areas develop water supplies; current laws tie county's hands
Joanna Dodder/The Daily CourierFall colors surround the Verde River along the Verde River Greenway in Clarkdale last month.
Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier
Fall colors surround the Verde River along the Verde River Greenway in Clarkdale last month.
Joanna Dodder/The Daily CourierThe Middle Verde River slides over rocks last month along the Verde River Greenway in Clarkdale.
Joanna Dodder/The Daily Courier
The Middle Verde River slides over rocks last month along the Verde River Greenway in Clarkdale.
Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden is working on legislation to implement recommendations from the Arizona Water Resources Development Commission and help secure regional water supplies.

Tobin's bill created the temporary commission in 2010.

He said Friday he's working on a bill to implement some of the commission's recommendations, but it's too early to say which of the commission's recommendations the bill will include. The next legislative session starts in January.

The commission recommended a new state law to allow the creation of "regional water augmentation authorities."

The authorities would allow local governments and water providers to pool their resources.

Under the commission recommendation, the authorities would have the power to plan, design, build, own and operate water projects. They also could buy and sell water rights, condemn property for water projects such as pipelines, charge fees for services and water sales, and issue revenue bonds.

The commission also recommended that the authorities should be eligible for low-interest loans from the state's Water Supply Development Revolving Fund.

The commission recommends requiring counties and municipalities to adopt the state's "water adequacy rule" before getting to use such loans to help local water providers and subdivisions outside of active management areas.

The commission discussed asking the Legislature to loosen the state water adequacy law to let counties adopt the adequacy rule by a simple majority vote instead of the required unanimous vote. But the commission couldn't agree on that recommendation, so it's not in its final list of recommendations issued in late September.

The 2007 state law creating the adequacy rule allows counties and municipalities to reject new subdivisions outside of Active Management Areas if they don't prove to the Arizona Department of Water Resources that they have adequate supplies of water for 100 years. State law already requires developers in the more urban active management areas, such as the 485-square-mile Prescott AMA, to prove they have 100-year water supplies.

Then-Rep. Lucy Mason of Prescott was the sponsor of the adequacy rule bill. She amended it to add the unanimous requirement on the county supervisors.

So far only two counties and two municipalities have adopted the adequacy rule. They are Cochise and Yuma counties, automatically including all their municipalities; and the municipalities of Clarkdale and Patagonia.

Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer has adamantly opposed the rule, arguing it would take away local control. Springer's term ends in December and she didn't seek re-election to the new board that will expand to five members.

Without that adequacy rule, Deputy County Attorney Jack Fields and county planning officials have advised the Yavapai supervisors and planning commissioners not to ask subdivision developers questions about water supplies when developers seek zoning changes and planned area development approvals (PADs), even if the proposals could increase population densities and water use. However, county officials can ask about other health and safety issues such as wildlife impacts.

"Water's different in this state," Fields said.

A recent example was the recent Yavapai Ranch application for a PAD containing 12,500 homes and 95 acres of commercial development in a remote rural area about 30 miles north of Prescott. Supervisors approved the application.

State law requires subdivisions outside of AMAs to get water adequacy determinations from the state before returning to local governments to seek approvals for plats that show more detailed development plans. But if Yavapai Ranch owner Fred Ruskin decides he doesn't want to spend any money on water studies, he can just ask the state to automatically issue a determination of an inadequate water supply since Yavapai hasn't adopted the adequacy rule.

When the Yavapai Ranch comes back to the county seeking plat approval, then county officials can talk about water supplies, too, Fields said.

But Fields advises supervisors not to deny a subdivision plat because of an inadequate water supply, since Yavapai supervisors have not adopted the water adequacy rule.

Coconino County Deputy Attorney Bill Ring said he advises Coconino supervisors not to ask subdivision developers about their water supplies during rezoning requests. But if the state later concludes they don't have adequate water supplies, the county can require lower densities.

Ring, who used to represent the Yavapai Ranch, said case law is clear that counties don't have the authority to make zoning decisions based on groundwater supplies.

Various counties take different stances, Arizona Department of water Resources Assistant Director Doug Dunham said.

"There is a difference of opinion about whether counties can talk about water at the zoning stage," he said.

His agency believes counties may ask about water supplies as long as it's a normal routine. At the initial zoning phase, they can even ask the developer to seek a water adequacy ruling from the state. But they can't reject a subdivision for having an inadequate water supply unless they adopt the adequacy rule.

Confusion about the subject is what led to the state law allowing local governments to adopt the adequacy rule, Dunham said.

Other state laws contribute to the confusion. Groundwater is subject to a common law "reasonable and beneficial use" standard, while surface water is subject to a "first in time, first in right" standard under Arizona's bifurcated water laws, Ring noted.

To learn more about Arizona's complicated water laws, see a summary PDF attached to this story online at dcourier.com.

Download PDF file summary of Arizona Water Law and Management (1 MB)

Rural areas need local and urban cooperation to meet water demands, officials say
PRESCOTT VALLEY - Rural Arizona communities need help from each other as well as urban areas to develop enough water resources to meet population demands in the coming decades, government officials from north-central Arizona repeatedly stated at a Friday gathering.

Representatives from the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee, Coconino Plateau Water Advisory Council, Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (NAMWUA) and the Arizona Department of Water Resources gathered at the Prescott Valley Public Library Friday to talk about their efforts to secure water supplies for population growth.

The water groups talked about how they foster cooperation between local water providers, and agreed that is key to meeting future water demands.

It could cost $3 billion over the next 50 years to meet the water needs described in a new report from the state's Water Resources Development Commission, said Pay-son Mayor Kenny Evans, who chairs NAMWUA.

"The WRDC report is sobering, to say the least," Evans said.

Yet the Legislature has never put any money into the state's 5-year-old Water Supply Development Revolving Fund created to provide low-interest loans for water projects, he noted. The commission suggests a dedicated funding source.

NAMWUA supports putting money in the fund, and allowing the creation of the "regional water augmentation authorities" the statewide commission recommended, Evans said.

It took 75 years to bring the idea of the Central Arizona Project to fruition, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney told the water officials at Saturday's meeting.

Studies clarify the challenges Arizona faces in providing enough water to its residents, Fabritz-Whitney said.

She pointed to work on new 10-year management plans for the state's active management areas (including the Prescott AMA), a Colorado River Basin study, and the Water Resources Development Commission study.

"We don't bury our heads in the sand," she said.

The Colorado Plateau and Yavapai County also are working on studies with the U.S.

Bureau of Reclamation that will help them quantify their future water needs and figure out the best ways to meet those needs.

Payson already finished such a study, and it has now secured water supplies through the CC Cragin Dam. But it's not cheap. It will cost $50 million or $3,000 per resident, Evans said.

The Yavapai and Coconino water studies with the Bureau of Rec already show substantial unmet water demands by 2050. It will cost $15 million just to complete the Coconino study, Coconino County Supervisor Mandy Metzger told the PV crowd. She chairs the Coconino water group.

The Yavapai study has concluded this region will need about 45,000 acre-feet of new water supplies by 2050, said Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, who co-chairs the Yavapai Water Advisory Committee. Current use is about 73,000 acre-feet.

The draft study about possible ways to meet those Yavapai demands is scheduled to be released by the end of this year. Solutions will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, Joens said.

Because rural areas have fewer residents to help cover the costs, they will need help from the urban areas to develop water supplies, said Ron Doba, NAMWUA administrator and coordinator of the Colorado Plateau group. Evans noted that as many as a quarter-million urban residents visit the Payson area during one summer weekend, so they contribute to Payson's needs.

"There's more groundwater available in the state," Doba said. "It's just not necessarily located where it needs to be."

Prescott Valley resident Doug Wall told the audience how rural areas helped the urban areas get federal aid to build the $3.6 billion Central Arizona Project (CAP) pipeline from the Colorado River in 1973-93. Wall chaired the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission that existed from 1948 to 1971.

"Rural Arizona could have stopped CAP," he said. Rural counties complained to him that they weren't getting anything from the CAP deal, but state leaders assured them that urban areas would help rural areas with their water needs in the future, Wall recalled.

Wall urged everyone in the audience to read a book called "A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest."

"We're going to need water," Wall said. "You read this book and it will scare you to death how quickly we're going to need it."

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Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, December 03, 2012
Article comment by: Brianb Boru

There is no hope. As long as AZ voters keep electing these politicians who only serve the big contributors/bribers, things will only get worse.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by: TO MORE SHORTSIGHTED

"•There has to be a population cap in this area until we develop a totally sustainable water resource."

You might as well quit right there, because money is the mother's milk of politics, and most of it comes from developers, their contractors, the chamber of commerce types.

And, of course, all government agencies love the extra tax money from all the fees tacked onto new developments. And the taxes levied on the residents of these developments.

Until we start electing politicians who are not any of the above, we are done for.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by: bob grant

ALEC ,NORQUIST et Al should be made illegal,these guys are a threat to every persons rights.If corporations are people they should face arrest for fraud,murder,and theft.Water rights in the hands of developers ,its sounds and looks like corporate socialism.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by: When Your Well Goes Dry

Ask Andy Tobin and his developer friends to dig you a new one. It IS all about the money and the acreage that can't be sold at a tidy profit because of the lack of water. Meanwhile put a meter on it, except for the golf courses, of course.

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2012
Article comment by: Yellow Dog

Private well owners, the corporatist state wants to commodi-fy your property right to a well with a meter. We cannot trust our (so called) representatives who are members of and therefore rubber stamps for the corporate funded ALEC.

We have a long range water problem, Welcome to Arizona. This is a reapportionment to special interest and at the expense or rural property owners. Sorry, these folks have the corporate campaign financing curse. That's who they work for.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: More Shortsighted Water Legislation Threatens Our Water Commons

Rural or urban, forget changing the rules to make it easier for counties to develop water resources (think for the developers), the problem remains the same! Due to extremely poor, short sighted, planning by our councils, supervisors and legislators, due to big money's power, and unquenched greed on behalf of our developers and land owners, we have greatly outstripped our ability to sustainably provide water to our greatly bloated population. The water level in all of our water urban production wells are falling at scary rates. The water level in, almost, all of the rural un-monitored private wells are falling as well. There are TOO many people using TOO much water… an unsustainable, diminishing, amount of ancient water from our aquifers. The lower reaches of these aquifers contains ancient water which was laid down by rain and snow eons ago, but the water now is being pumped out and evaporated on golf courses and lawns faster than it is being recharged.

The solutions:
•Reduce the individual citizen's water consumption. We must charge the amount that the water is really worth. If a frugal user is consuming a sustainable amount, the cost of the water should be quite low. If the consumer is guzzling water, wasting it on long showers, evaporative lawns and lush landscape, then the water rate must be extremely / prohibitively expensive. This must be done in the urban areas first. Then private wells must be metered and the water used charged for. Remember, every citizen is pulling water from a Water Commons - OUR Aquifer, every citizen has responsibility in using a sustainable amount! We are currently not even close to this goal!
•Citizens must start to catch rain on their property, store it and use it for watering sustainable xeriscaped, (local vegetation) landscape.
•There has to be a population cap in this area until we develop a totally sustainable water resource... whenever this is brought up to the local governments, they will ask you to quit talking about it in their chambers.
•We must destroy Willow lake and Watson lake dams, and replace them with a dozen, water-pausing, dams on Granite Creek, this would allow all the mountain water flowing in Willow Creek and Granite Creek loose into the Granite Creek wash through the Chino Valley area. Granite Creek, in this area, is a very handy, very sandy / gravelly long linear porous water conduit down to the bed rock. This would allow the surface water produced by rain and snow to rapidly enter back down into the lower reaches of the Little Chino Aquifer.
•We must protect the Upper Verde springs! That means protecting the Big Chino Aquifer from crazy development schemes like that just passed by our still irresponsible, short sighted county supervisors (nothing has changed here)! It means protecting the Big Chino from water pipelines to Prescott and Prescott Valley!
•We must vote for legislators who have foresight, understanding and OUR interests in mind as they make laws and rules for water use.
These strategies must be implemented or our children will hear a giant sucking sound emitting from our wells indicating the end of any value that their property has in this area.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: Ted Bishop

Water is an issue that needs adequate planning for in the future. As a member of the public, I attended Friday’s meeting at the Crystal room in Prescott Valley. Mayor Harvey Skoog opened the meeting, followed by Rep. Karen Fann, and many other officials who spoke on the subject. A common concern was addressed, the need for multijurisdictional cooperation in addressing the future water needs of Arizona. This involves the paper rights, reclaimed water usage, and well water supplies.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: Come on, George Driver. You simply can't be that gullible.

Tobin is the guy that told us the The League of Women Voters supported his candidacy. The didn't and don't. That supported the pay day loan industry. And helped Senator Pierce in making horse breeding for big profit a non-profit venture! You can be sure this time he is making sure his wealthy (and hoping to get wealthier) rancher friends will have water for their future real estate developments. AND WE WILL PAY FOR THE WATER!!!

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: Concerned Citizen

I sure hope that we Prescott citizens are not taxed for developing water supplies for those undeveloped ranch lands but I'm afraid that may be in the cards. Better that we conserve what we have, restrict new development, and maintain our natural areas. We are already paying an "Alternative Water Fee" every month.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: George Driver

Thank you Andy Tobin we all need to work getting the verde river back to what it used to be.Especially around the Perkinsville area. I remember it being so beautiful and its being destroyed. People do not pick up the trash even some locals throw grabage there its our natural beauty in our area and it should be taken care of and restored.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: Alan Whitney

Do we REALLY need to kill off what is left of Arizona?

This kind of crap makes me ashamed to be a Republican.

If the Democrat Party weren't so crack-pot crazy on social issues, gun-control, and the welfare state, I swear to God I'd switch.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: Brian Boru

The fix is in. Ring was paid to outsmart everybody and now Yavapai Ranch will suck up water we can't spare.

Runaway, rubber-stamp development will be the CAlifornication of Arizona.

And, we can blame our own Arizona politicians and their financial bedfellows, not the folks who move here.

We are our own worst enemy. A few get rich and the rest of us suffer. And we voted them in.

Posted: Saturday, December 01, 2012
Article comment by: The problem here is this. They just don't care about the future.

Or the quality of life of the present residents. Tobin, the County Commissioners, the Prescott and PV city councils and mayors are all conservative, right-wing Republicans and to a person are more interested in the wants of the investor, developer, construction cabal that repeatedly puts them in office than in the health of our beautiful, endangered Verde River or the environment in general. Period. So although Prescott, for example, did not for various good reasons, grow at all in the last ten years they want it to grow exponentially in the next ten. They must all go or we will all be sorry.

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