Going to the Well Too Often

Should boom towns like Prescott let little things like water shortages keep them from growing?

"I simply put it in there because it is in the literature," he says. And, "I guess if you needed to go back and look at that, you could probably estimate where that withdrawal was from. I didn't do it."

In other words, Manera doesn't know, and nobody else really knows, how much water is there or how pumping it out will affect any other users. And it doesn't matter anyway because they're downstream. And besides, to do an extensive study of all available water in the area would be prohibitively expensive.

"You've got to remember that Manera works at 100 to 150 dollars an hour. I wasn't pushing him to do some monthlong study on where [Reclamation] found their data," says McCraine.

However, with a couple of quick phone calls, New Times found two of the Bureau of Reclamation scientists who had prepared the report.

The pumping was not measured in any one place downslope from the Inscription Canyon Ranch well, but rather it was calculated from crops planted in the area times the amount of water those crops need, asserts Darrell Ewing, a Bureau of Reclamation geologist.

As for Manera's assumption that much more water would run into the aquifer downstream, "We found that the recharge was all up in the mountains, and once you hit the valley floor there was very little recharge, if any," says John Osterberg, a Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist. "He'd probably have the most of it running underneath him."

Furthermore, the study had nothing to do with estimating water available for pumping, but rather it proved that the Big Chino and Williamson Valley sub basins emptied into the Verde River and that pumping from them would affect the river adversely.

Nonetheless, Manera's report satisfied the letter of the law, and the Arizona Department of Water Resources signed off on it.

"That means our technical staff has reviewed it," says ADWR's Jim Holway, "and what we're concurring with is that underneath your property, to a depth of 1,000 feet, in that bathtub there is enough water to serve you. We're not saying you might not draw up every other well in the area, and we're not saying at the end of 100 years you might be empty."

Although the Inscription Canyon development was approved by the Yavapai County Planning and Zoning Commission and the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, the approvals were not unanimous.

"I am concerned that some of the water issues are not adequately understood," says James Buchanan, chairman of the county zoning commission. "And during the period of time in which we don't completely understand the consequence and outcome of decisions, instead of erring in favor of the resource, we may be erring in favor of growth."

Buchanan voted against the project, and so did county supervisor Chip Davis, who represents the Verde Valley area.

"The biggest issue for us is that the water source does drain out in the Big Chino [aquifer], which is actually the headwaters of the Verde River," he says. "If everyone sucks it before it gets to the river, there's no river."

One zoning commissioner, on hearing that the water ran into the Verde River, allegedly remarked that since it was going to go to waste by running down the river, the county might as well use it for golf.

Besides, there are alleged studies saying that the Williamson Valley and Big Chino aquifers don't reach the Verde River anyway, which makes Davis apoplectic.

"We do study upon study upon study that shows that's the headwaters of the Verde River, and they like to say, 'Well, that's not conclusive, so we want to go and pull it out,'" Davis says. "Well, Jesus, one of the last live rivers in the state of Arizona and you have no trouble drying it up so that you can keep growing, and that's the irritating part.

"This is the most arid state in the United States, and we don't have any clear answers of how much water we have, what quantity and quality are available."

Jen Scott's well has dropped five feet in the last year.
"The only external factor that would have changed the condition of the well would be the exorbitant sucking of water," she says.

Judging from the depth of her well and comparing it to the soil types found at corresponding levels of the Inscription Canyon well, she thinks she's down in the same aquifer.

"I hope that we are all on pocket water," she says. "I hope that the aquifer doesn't extend this far. But if the State Department of Water Resources doesn't have any evidence to refute that or support that, why should we feel confident about this fellow's report?"

As long as the state economy is addicted to limitless growth even in the face of limited water, that's the only assurance the law provides.

Contact Michael Kiefer at his online address: mkiefer@newtimes.com

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