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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

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8/18/2012 9:58:00 PM
Officials struggle to fill Verde water group vacancy
Joanna Dodder Nellans
The Daily Courier

Verde Valley members of the 13-year-old Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee are facing philosophical differences in their struggle to choose a replacement for the committee's long-time Technical Advisory Committee member Loyd Barnett.

Their main disagreement is whether to appoint someone who is employed by one of the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) members - Cottonwood Natural Resources Director Tom Whitmer - or someone who does not work for a local government.

The disagreement became more complicated at Wednesday's WAC meeting when Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis of Clarkdale said the Verde WAC members support appointing retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist and regional manager Bill Meyer of Prescott. Meyer wasn't one of the three men previously under consideration, although Davis brought him up Monday during a private meeting of the Verde WAC members.

Prescott-area WAC members actually fired Meyer six years ago from the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) after Meyer criticized studies by Prescott's hydrology consultants. Since then, all the Prescott-area TAC members have been employees of Prescott-area municipalities.

Davis and Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig say they oppose Whitmer because he's a municipal employee.

"It politicizes the process," Von Gausig told the Verde Independent in June. "It is easy to see the results of that with the way the WAC has operated since three technical members work for WAC community members. We've gotten gridlock. We can't even run that (U.S. Geological Survey groundwater computer) model that we have paid for, because the TAC members are all aligned with the members of WAC from the Prescott side."

Davis expressed frustration at Wednesday's WAC meeting with the now 16-month delay on using the USGS computer model to see how future population growth might affect local water resources such as the Verde River. TAC members have been working with the USGS on refinements to the model that Prescott-area communities wanted.

"I think we've been appeasing people for a while," Davis said.

Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, also the WAC co-chair, told fellow WAC members Wednesday that she has not agreed to appoint Meyer. She later said she'd rather have Whitmer, and she prefers someone who lives in the Verde.

Cottonwood hired Whitmer with the idea that he would be perfect to represent the Verde on the TAC, especially since Cottonwood is the only Verde municipality with a water resources manager, Joens said.

Whitmer has vast experience in water issues as the long-time manager of regional water planning for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and he used to represent that agency on the WAC.

Joens noted that the Verde WAC members previously chose Cottonwood's former water resources manager, Bob Hardy, to serve on the TAC. She said she has no problem with Prescott-area municipal employees serving on the TAC, either.

"I feel like the WAC has been very successful with the TAC we have," Joens said. "Those communities pay into the WAC and they have chosen their TAC members."

It might be best to expand the six-member TAC to allow each WAC member to choose a TAC member, she said.

That issue might be part of the discussion the next time the WAC meets, along with the Verde TAC appointment. It's unclear whether the WAC will meet next month or wait until October.

"We're kind of getting away from the purpose of the TAC," Davis said after Wednesday's WAC meeting. "It's turned into a political body" instead of providing "neutral objective information" to the WAC.

Municipalities and county supervisors from the Prescott area "want to load it up with people who don't want to hear the true science," Davis charged.

He praised Meyer's expertise in water issues.

"He is only going to do what science, research and education has shown him," Davis said. "I wish all the TAC members had that capability."

Davis said he's also uncomfortable with Cottonwood having its employee on the subcommittee because Cottonwood is seeking to annex nine sections of state trust lands between Cottonwood and Sedona near the Verde River for development.

"We know Whitmer's a great guy...but now he's on the payroll for somebody and we don't know if we'll get that objective view," Davis said.

Joens said her fellow Verde WAC members never told her about this issue. Cottonwood wants to see the trust lands developed with open space and water lines instead of septic tanks like the neighboring Verde Village, she said.

"The Verde people don't want more growth, but it will come and we need to manage it," Joens said.

Prescott-area viewpoint

Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer of Prescott, who has long been involved in water issues, said it's up to the Verde officials to pick their own TAC members.

In the past, the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors has automatically ratified TAC choices. Two supervisors are from the Prescott area and one is from the Verde. But the WAC has never agreed to a specific procedure for new TAC members, only a draft. Prescott-area WAC members and Verde WAC members each appoint three members to the TAC.

Meyer is about the worst person the Verde could choose in her mind, Springer said, because she believes he's biased against the pipeline Prescott wants to build into the Big Chino Aquifer.

Springer voiced support for Whitmer, as did Prescott City Council Member Steve Blair, who is the new WAC co-chair.

It's perfectly appropriate for government employees to serve as technical advisors, Springer said.

"From my perspective, the WAC is a governmental body and therefore these are the people who have the authority to control water decisions," she said.

Meyer represented the Prescott area on the TAC until 2006, when he sent a letter to Prescott officials that criticized Big Chino pipeline studies by Prescott's groundwater consultants. Bob Roecker, then a Prescott City Council member and WAC co-chair, kicked Meyer off the TAC a month after the city received the letter from Meyer and fellow retired USGS scientist Ed Wolfe. The current Yavapai County Board of Supervisors later ratified Roecker's action on a 2-1 vote with Davis dissenting.

Roecker said then-Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann, now a state representative from Prescott, wanted her town's water resources director on the TAC instead of Meyer.

With that change, all three of the Prescott area representatives on the TAC were municipal water employees, and that arrangement continues today.

County and municipal leaders in Yavapai County created the Water Advisory Committee in 1999 to help reduce water conflicts, especially after Prescott announced its plan to pump groundwater from the Big Chino Aquifer and pump it south to supplement its depleted groundwater supplies. The county and each of its municipalities and Indian tribes are WAC members.

Downstream Verde Valley officials and others have worried about how Prescott's Big Chino pumping could affect the flow of the Verde River, since scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies at least 80 percent of the base flow in the Upper Verde River. Prescott has not produced a mitigation plan about how it would avoid or reduce such impacts.

"Failure to (institute better management practices) will result in an eventual drying up of our water supply," Meyer wrote in an October 2011 Daily Courier column.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Article comment by: Hooty Hoo

What gets me about the WAC is this: they don't have any power to do anything. They meet, the beat (their lips together) and they shuffle their feet. It's sort of a waste of time IMO. And their meetings go like this: The Prescott area reps say they favor pumping water and the Cottonwood reps say they are against it. Every freaking time.

Posted: Wednesday, August 22, 2012
Article comment by: @Chips right .

Do you think that a representative from perhaps the largest environmental organization in the country has potential to introduce biases? Well the TAC has one of those in Jeanmarie Haney who works for the Nature Conservancy. Seems like she might possibly have some biases. What say you? Are only people who work for cities capable of bias? Are only people that don't think like you capable of biases? Time to take a step back. If you just don't like the Whitmer guy, say it - don't hide behind a stupid "he's biased" argument.

I don't have a problem with biases as long as they are known - apparently Ms Haney works well with others and she hopefully represents her interests in a professional way - But you are clueless to thnk she does not have interests or specific desires about how management should occur. (Bill Meyer seems excellent - I question whether or not the single instance was the entire reason he was kicked off the TAC (could it be that the courier doesn't have it perfectly straight? has that ever happened?). Maybe he is difficult to work with (a lot of ivory tower phd's are, but not all). The smartest person in the world is no use on these type of committtees if they can't work with others,or they always have to be right, or they work against the organization behind its back. I don't know. But this is the courier comments section - we can speculate.

Some of you might consider dismounting from your high horses. All have biases, diversity is good and working relationships are important. If you also cared to pay attention to small amount of detail, you would know they are checking out the model (I've been to some meetings where this was discussed). Gold standard or not, if you think a science product is beyond reproach, and everybody should bow down to the USGS Gods you are mistaken. I haven't heard anybody except "you" say they are not going to run it. Seems you may have been duped into your conclusions. Maybe you should question your sources about thier biases?

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Concerned Citizen

Nice work Joanna. I attended the WAC meeting and did not get all of the insights provided in your article. Bill Meyer would make an unbiased TAC member and it would help to have his input. All of the TAC are well qualified and intelligent participants but I do believe that the elected officials on the WAC influence what they can or can't say as their superiors. Whether this is good or not is up to the public to decide. We are approaching the time when science and technologic advancements are all important in determining the management of and use of our natural resources, especially water. Hopefully our elected officials are up to this task.

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Bill Williams

Well, the problem seems to be that the committee has not drafted rules for adding a member. This is Committee Membership 101, kids. It has to begin with insight and leadership. Create rules that are voted on by the committee members for the addition of new members already it can't be "I want this person because I know him" it HAS to be: this person got added because of our qualifications standards and rules. By the way folks, the real work is getting done by John Rasmussen, NOT the elected officials - they are just there for political reasons. Oh, and did you know the committee has $250,000 budget?

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: TAC is already politicized

Let's face it ... the WAC is inherently political, and they have failed in preventing the TAC from becoming politicized.

This is self-evident. They won't even run the USGS model which we citizens paid for with our taxes and which represents the gold standard for objective scientific information.

So both the WAC and TAC are broken and no longer working. They lack credibility and should be disbanded.

If we the citizens of Yavapai County want better water decisions, we'll have to look elsewhere for objective information and advice.

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Tom Steele

As a 9 year resident it took me a few years to understand the politics West of Mingus and the actual water issues. The ranchers turned developers West of Mingus see big returns from converting grazing land into subdivisions and having the taxpayers pay for the roads and infrastructure. Yes, as long as they control who is on the Prescott and Prescott Valley councils. Yes, and these same people have "water experts" on the payroll. So the battle will be between those who are not in favor of water draining large development and the developer controlled public officials West of Mingus. I agree with Chip Davis that Dr. Meyer would be a great choice but the political power is still with the developers. The fact that since 2000 we have added hundreds of homes in spite of admission our water table is dropping about 14,000 acre feet of water every year. That overdraft is enough to deny 126,000 people water if we don't manage safe yield for the people living here now.

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Dr. Meyer Not A Rubber Stamp.. a Refreshing Change?

How interesting, the politically driven, totally dysfunctional, "Whacky Tacky" is finding it difficult to appoint Bill Meyer, a person who, after a great deal of study has come to the conclusion that Prescott, and Prescott Valley are not planning a sustainable water future. Is Supervisor Springer’s objection that Dr. Meyer not a rubber stamp? Does she object that he does not buy in to the, politically correct, rapid development mantra? Does he have a different point of view? Does he, perhaps, have the most accurate point of view? Does he understand that pumping the Big Chino, delivering the water to a planned, rapidly growing population in Prescott, PV and CV will dry up the Upper Verde Springs and desiccate the Upper Verde River?

The politically(think developer)-driven) "Whacky Tacky", has initiated and helped pay for an expensive, extensive computer study / model produced by the USGS. These same folks will not allow it to be run! They know what it will reveal! It will reveal that the human carrying capacity of our water supply is greatly out of balance. It will reveal that, because of very poor planing, we are already greatly overpopulated in relation to our sustainable ground water supply, that more growth will only increase the rate of the withdrawal and cause an even more rapid decline in COP’s and PV’s production well’s water levels. Very few folks are willing to discuss the population factor in the water equation. The COP Mayor and Council do not want anyone to even mention Prescott’s population growth issues. The Current Mayor, Marlin Kuykendall, will rudely interrupt, make you quit talking and send you home without a lolly, when you bring that topic up at a city council meeting! Developer’s "sweetheart", Carol Springer will also send you packing if you discuss population and water depletion! These are the same Supervisors, Mayors, “Water Managers” and Councils of COP, CV, & PV who are forbidding the USGS Ground Water Model to run our area’s data (do they intuitively know what it will foretell?)! Even CWAG strikes out when the population factor of the water equation is brought into discussion “No one will want to talk to us, or listen to us if we discuss restricting population”.
HELLO...there IS A POPULATION FACTOR to our water consumption, (Bigger Population=More Water Needed), it is basic logic, it is water physics, it is a mathematical fact. Put Bill Meyer on the panel (if he is crazy enough to become involved)! Run the USGS Model! Use science instead of greed and politics to power your thought! Work hand in hand with the, downstream, Verde Valley and come up with a plan of extreme conservation, and population control. Otherwise our progeny will have a very dry future!

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Win Hjalmarson

Bill Meyer is a great choice because he brings much needed science and experience in groundwater hydrology. Back in 2006 Bill Meyer as a TAC member was critical of Prescott's water studies related to its plans to pump water from the Big Chino aquifer south to its Little Chino aquifer area. When firing Bill Meyer, Bob Roecker of Prescott said he wanted to "add dimension" to the technical group (TAC). However, the Prescott area's other TAC members were water resource officials for Prescott and Prescott Valley, Jim Holt and John Munderloh. The truth was that Meyer had expressed concerns about how Prescott's pipeline would affect the Verde River. At that time U.S. Geological Survey studies estimated that 80-86 percent of the Verde River's base flow came from the Big Chino. Also, Roecker blamed Meyer’s web site as the information source for the 2006 America's Most Endangered Rivers list that included the Verde, and it cited Prescott's pipeline as the major reason.

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: What is WAC without politics?

The municipalities are paying dues to belong to WAC. There would be no WAC without the dues. You can't take the politics out of politics. Mr. Meyer's looks good on paper, but is anything but unbiased.

Posted: Sunday, August 19, 2012
Article comment by: Chip's Right

I'm with Chip Davis. Employees of cities should not be on the technical committee because they have already proven that they inject politics into their advice for the WAC.

I almost forgot - RUN THE USGS MODEL ALREADY!!!

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