It's unclear whether a new Big Chino groundwater pact will exacerbate or relieve disagreements in the broader Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee.
Prescott and Prescott Valley signed an agreement with the Salt River Project Wednesday, Sept. 19, that includes a plan for a computerized model of how the communities' plan to use Big Chino Valley groundwater might affect the headwaters of the Upper Verde River that depends on the Big Chino groundwater.
The new plan also calls for at least five years of collecting water data before creating the Big Chino computer model in six years.
The parties kept their two years of negotiations on the plan secret, until they released a copy of the plan shortly before the Prescott and PV councils approved it Wednesday.
For more than a year, Prescott-area officials have delayed the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee's plan to use a U.S. Geological Survey computer model of the entire Verde River Watershed to test the possible impacts of future groundwater pumping on local groundwater and surface water flows. Ten years of data gathering and previous studies went into the USGS model and report that were released in April 2011.
Water Committee members from the Verde Valley didn't see the need for more work, but they granted the Prescott area's request to refine the Verde Watershed model before using it to test future growth scenarios, and now that extra work is nearly finished.
At last month's Water Committee meeting, Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis of Clarkdale called on fellow Water Committee members to move ahead with running the growth scenarios on the computer model, something the committee already paid the USGS to do.
Fearing Wednesday's agreement is a delay tactic, Davis wondered out loud Friday about the timing of the new agreement between the Prescott area and SRP, directly after his Water Committee comments.
Davis said he's concerned that the Prescott communities will now want to wait at least six years to run the USGS computer model scenarios of the Verde Watershed, until their new "nested" Upper Verde model of the Big Chino area is complete.
He's also concerned about the fact that water providers in the Upper Verde (Prescott and PV) and water providers in the Lower Verde (SRP) are negotiating in secret without water providers in the Middle Verde (Verde Valley). "Why aren't we included in these kind of discussions?" Davis said.
Water Committee Co-Chair Steve Blair, a Prescott City Council member, said he personally wants to wait to run any computerized scenarios in the Upper Verde region until the Big Chino model is complete in six years or more.
"There's no push for growth," Blair said, noting that Prescott and PV agreed to delay their Big Chino pumping plans until after the Big Chino groundwater model is complete. "I'd say wait until these nested (Big Chino) models are done."
The Prescott-area agreement with SRP doesn't state whether they will hire the USGS or a private consultant to create their Big Chino water model. Previous Prescott consultants have offered different views of the Upper Verde hydrogeology than the USGS.
If the Verde Valley wants to go ahead and use the Verde Watershed model to test growth scenarios in their Middle Verde region, that's fine, Blair said. But he opposes its use right now in the Upper Verde area that includes the Big Chino and the Prescott region.
PV Council Member Lora Lee Nye, who also serves on the Water Committee, said Prescott and PV officials haven't yet conferred on whether they want the Water Committee to delay its model run.
But she assumes it will be a topic of discussion at the next Water Committee meeting Oct. 17. The Water Committee's September meeting was cancelled during its August meeting at the request of Nye and Blair. They told fellow Water Committee members Aug. 15 that they had another meeting to attend Sept. 19, but didn't say it was the meeting to approve the SRP agreement.
Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, another Water Committee member from the Middle Verde, said the new agreement between the Prescott region and SRP will help people learn more about the Big Chino groundwater system.
"I think it's a good step in the right direction," Von Gausig said. "I think it's an opportunity for everybody to stop fighting and solve problems. They've got the right to 8,100 acre-feet (of Big Chino groundwater annually). Let's see they do it right."
Efforts to reach Water Committee Co-Chair Diane Joens, mayor of Cottonwood, were unsuccessful.