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6/14/2014 2:40:00 PM
Water leaders discuss unmet needs
By Joanna Dodder Nellans
Contributing Reporter/Daily Courier

If people would just move where water is available instead of trying to move water toward communities, life would be a lot simpler in Arizona.

But Arizonans don't live in portable houses like the early residents, so it's not so easy to pick up and move.

Water experts at northern Arizona's annual Legislative Water Briefing Thursday in Prescott Valley discussed the issues surrounding efforts to provide enough water for residents. Numerous state, tribal, county and municipal officials attended.

Arizona Sen. Steve Pierce of Prescott contended the state has enough water for 36 million people, but it's in the wrong place.

While the Valley of the Sun and Tucson have moved water via the Central Arizona Project's system of canals from the Colorado River, rural areas don't have access to that water.

Prescott Valley Mayor Harvey Skoog said it took 75 years from conception to start building the Central Arizona Project.

Coconino Plateau communities are seriously considering their own Colorado River pipeline, but they don't know how they will pay for the next phase of a detailed Bureau of Reclamation appraisal study, let alone a pipeline. Money for water infrastructure is a major problem across the region, said Coconino County Supervisor Mandy Metzger, chair of the Coconino Plateau Water Advisory Council.

The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee is further behind in its Bureau of Reclamation study. Co-Chair Steve Blair, a Prescott City Council member, said it needs more state financial help.

Payson has a solution for its foreseeable water needs in a pipeline from CC Cragin Reservoir, but it needs to find $50 million to do it, said Buzz Walker, the town's water superintendent. Since federal help isn't in sight, the town might have to raise its water bills to $100 per month.

Pierce wondered how Prescott and PV will come up with an estimated $187 million to build a pipeline to the neighboring Big Chino Aquifer, which those communities consider as only a partial solution to ending a multi-year trend of local groundwater depletion.

Residential well users should help resolve water supply issues by paying well recovery fees, Prescott City Councilor Steve Blair said, noting that municipalities pay fees.

Several speakers voiced support for putting money into the state's fund for low-interest loans on water infrastructure projects. The Legislature created the fund several years ago and this year was the first time it appropriated any money for the fund, just $1 million.

An NPR article in the conference packet noted how Texas just appropriated $2 billion for a similar fund to carry out a new statewide water plan.

Arizona needs a water plan, but that work languishes while the Arizona Legislature gets preoccupied with gun legislation and social issues, Pierce said.

"If we don't have water, none of those really matter," he said.

Idaho appropriated $35 million to try to wrap up its water adjudication issues, but Arizona appropriated only $1 million of the $10 million Pierce and others hoped for this year, he said.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources laid out a broad plan for meeting water needs in this year's "Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability," noted Doug Dunham, legislative analyst for the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Human water demands could outstrip supplies in 25-30 years, he said. But Arizona's issues aren't nearly as bad as Texas, he said. Arizona today is using the same amount of water it used in 1957 despite a huge increase in population.

Arizona needs to conserve, reuse, import and desalinate water while also harvesting rainwater and resolving its Indian water rights claims, Dunham said. So far only 12 of 22 tribes have settled or partially settled their claims.

Blair said he hoped the gubernatorial candidates in the room Thursday were listening to the discussion about northern Arizona's water needs.

The candidates were invited to attend and answer questions about water issues.



Follow Joanna Dodder on Twitter @joannadodder

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