Prescott AZ (February 27, 2020) – A new Center for Biological Diversity analysis shows the city of Prescott’s proposed water policy would accelerate sprawl development and dramatically reduce the upper Verde River’s annual water flow.
The city council meets Tuesday to discuss whether to supply approximately 9,500 acre-feet of water per year for use by developments in unspoiled grasslands in Yavapai County north of the city’s boundaries, where two major developers own property.
The water would allow subdivisions to replace scenic open land and destroy pronghorn and grassland bird habitat. The new water plan would consume the equivalent of nearly the entire annual base flow of the upper Verde River.
“It’s appalling that Prescott officials are willing to sacrifice one of the most spectacular rivers in the Southwest so developers can make a buck,” said Joe Trudeau, the Center’s Southwest advocate. “The math is simple. Pumping this much water would supply about 50,000 new homes. That could mean the end of the upper Verde River, as well as the plants and animals that rely on it.”
The Center’s analysis shows that the city’s proposal would more than double the city’s water service area to almost 65,000 acres. The proposal would primarily benefit two large landowners who together own more than 21 square miles of ranchland north of town. Extending water to this area also would encourage the sale and development of more than 13 square miles of state trust land which are unlikely to be developed without access to water.
Prescott’s population is already projected to double over the next several decades. More than 23,000 new homes have been approved or are in the review process. Based on current water allocation rates, the city’s proposed water service area expansion could add about 50,000 more homes to Prescott’s water system. That would increase the region’s population to more than 200,000 people, straining roads, schools, parks, wildlife and the Verde River.
The two ranches that would benefit most are the Granite Dells/Point of Rocks Ranch, owned by Arizona Eco Development, and the Deep Well Ranch. Massive subdivisions have recently been approved on their properties ― roughly 15,000 homes across 3,000 acres.
In addition, Arizona Eco Development is asking the City Council to annex a highly contentious 2,500-acre development that would destroy part of the iconic Granite Dells. The plan has gained national attention through the efforts of the local advocacy organization Save the Dells.
“Prescott is fast-tracking a massive water giveaway to two of Yavapai County’s wealthiest landowners, who already tapped out their own water supplies,” Trudeau said. “Prescott wants the developers to get the water for free and pass the costs on to city water users. If this proposal is approved, our grandkids might never see wild pronghorn or water in the upper Verde River.”
The city of Prescott argues that expanding the water service area would benefit the Little Chino aquifer by reducing residential well drilling. But the volume of city water that could be delivered to the area would incentivize high-density developments, increasing potential housing density by up to 10 times more than what’s currently allowed under two-acre lot zoning.
“Groundwater pumping in the Little Chino aquifer has already killed the upper six miles of the Verde River,” Trudeau said. “Insatiable growth is a death knell for the Verde River and local wildlife. Wells in Chino Valley are dropping a foot or two every year, so the future for people looks bleak, too.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.