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RESPONSE TO MAYORS

August, 2006

Many thanks to all of you who have written letters to decision-makers regarding Prescott’s and Prescott Valley’s proposed groundwater pumping and pipeline that threatens the Verde River. The mayors of those cities have received thousands of emails in recent months, spurring Prescott Valley to send a response that you may have recently received by email.

Although Prescott and Prescott Valley express “commitment” to preserve the Verde in the email, the cities have not committed to the most basic necessary steps in this regard: a thorough environmental evaluation of the potential impacts from groundwater pumping and a comprehensive mitigation plan. Simply stating a commitment is not a guarantee of action. And a commitment to “monitor” is not mitigation.

The cities claim that a recent U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report identifies multiple sources of water to the Upper Verde River. However, they fail to make clear that during the driest time of the year, 80 to 86 percent of the water in the upper 24 miles of the Verde comes from the Big Chino aquifer. Additional details of percentages and surface flows presented by the cities distract from the fact that willows, sycamores and ash trees would die off due to stress during dry seasons as the contribution from the Big Chino aquifer decreases. This resulting reduction in the riparian gallery forest would be detrimental to resident and migratory birds and other animals. Reduced flows also degrade habitat for native fish and other aquatic species that are already disappearing from the Southwest.

The cities’ response contains other statistics that are completely irrelevant to concerns about the destruction of habitat in the Upper Verde. The truth is that a loss of “five percent” or more of water at the end of the system warrants serious concern for people, plants and animals in the lower basin. And the loss of the upper 24 miles of the Verde River would be devastating and irreversible.

While growth is certainly occurring in the Big Chino sub-basin, the proposed pipeline would export more water than is currently being pumped and used within the basin. Over the ten-year average from 1993 to 2003, 95 percent of water used within the basin was for agriculture, where much of the water seeps back into the aquifer. Exportation of water removes it entirely from the basin, which has a much greater impact on the water “budget” and all those who rely on the beneficial uses of the watershed.

USGS hydrology reports conclude that impacts from water development in the Big Chino sub-basin threaten the Verde River, specifically citing the Prescott and Prescott Valley proposed pipeline. The only questions that remain are the timing and degrees of the project’s impacts, and what minimization of impacts can be achieved through mitigation. This research must be completed before storming ahead with the proposed pipeline.

Citizens deserve real answers from the cities as to what they specifically intend to do to preserve the base flows and habitat of the Verde River. Monitoring and verbal commitments to throw money at the impending impacts fall outrageously short of the expectations and needs of concerned citizens and downstream communities.

The Center appreciates your participation on this important issue and hopes you will continue to express your concerns about the proposed pipeline project.

Photo © Robin Silver