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Water Management

The management of water supplies in the City of Prescott is an on-going responsibility of both the water provider and the water consumer: the water provider manages the supply to ensure the sustainability of the community and the water consumer participates actively through efficient use and conservation. Arizona state laws have been the driving force for the management of water supplies and are specifically addressed by City codes, policies, and other documents within the City’s water service area. More information on the City of Prescott’s water supplies in relation to the State’s Active Management Area, the City’s Designation of Assured Water Supply, Types of City Supplies, Recharge and Recovery, Water Conservation and Drought Preparedness follow below.

State’s Active Management Areas

The City of Prescott is one of four (4) incorporated communities that reside within the State’s Prescott Active Management Area (PrAMA) and the remainder of the land is unincorporated Yavapai County. The PrAMA was defined by the passage of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act (Code) and is regulated by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). Due to stipulations in the Code, in 1999, the Assured Water Supply rules were invoked in the PrAMA, which restricts the use of groundwater supplies for new subdivision development. For more information, see the Final Determination on the Safe-Yield Status of the Prescott AMA. The ADWR website contains additional information on all aspects of water management with in the PrAMA.

City’s Assured Water Supply Designation

In 1999, the City was issued its first Assured Water Supply Designation, more commonly known as a Decision and Order (D&O), by ADWR. In order for the City to obtain and maintain this designation, it must demonstrate, among other requirements, that it’s water supplies will be physically, legally, and continually available for one hundred (100) years. Visit the ADWR website for more information related to Assured Water Supply requirements. Since 1999, the City’s D&O has been modified twice to acknowledge an increase of water supplies that resulted from the acquisition of water supplies within the PrAMA, acquisition of supplies outside of the PrAMA, and groundwater recharge. The City’s most recent D&O was signed on December 30, 2009; however, because the document went into litigation, the City chose to limit any further reservations or other plans for the new supplies pending a Court verdict. In September 2011, all litigation ended and the D&O remained as stated and signed on December 30, 2009. The City’s 2009 D&O is available in both text and diagram formats below.

Types of City Water Supplies

There are two (2) categories of water supplies within the City’s D&O: groundwater and alternative water (water that is the alternative to using PrAMA groundwater). Within the alternative water category, there are subcategories including: surface water, reclaimed water (treated effluent), and imported water (Big Chino sub-basin groundwater). These supplies are described below.

  • Groundwater – the water supplies pumped from the groundwater aquifers within the PrAMA. Only lands within the City’s water service area that were recognized in 1999 to receive this water supply are entitled to connect to the City’s water system.
  • Alternative Water – the water supplies that are the alternative to pumping additional groundwater supplies from the PrAMA, including surface water, reclaimed water (treated effluent), and imported groundwater. These supplies are the backbone for meeting the State’s intent to transition communities into recharge and recovery practices and therefore reducing groundwater overdraft.
    • Surface water: various surface water supply projects have supported Prescott since territorial times but, now the City relies upon the water secured by the acquisition of Watson and Willow Lake Reservoirs and their associated water rights.
    • Reclaimed water (treated effluent): the City has been producing reclaimed water supplies since the mid-1930’s when the first City wastewater treatment plant was constructed. The late 1980s is when the State began to develop recharge and recovery statutes and rules. Now, the City uses reclaimed supplies for turf watering and industrial use, and the remainder is “banked” in the City’s State defined long-term storage account.
      • These supplies were first recognized for assured water supply purposes in the City’s 1999 D&O.
      • Reclaimed supplies are currently recognized in the 2009 D&O as water supply used for direct delivery to turf and industrial facilities, annual recharge and recovery, and recharge that continues to be banked in the State defined long-term storage accounts.
      • This “banking” occurs when the water cannot be used directly the year it was produced so is then stored in the ground for future use.
    • Imported supplies (supplies from outside the PrAMA boundaries):
      • The potential importation of water supplies from the Big Chino sub-basin has an extensive history that pre-dates the 1980 Groundwater Code.
      • In the late 1990s, the City sold an entitlement to Colorado River supplies to fund the acquisition of water supplies from the Big Chino sub-basin.
      • In 2004, accordance with State law A.R.S. § 45-555, the City purchased lands in the Big Chino sub-basin to meet existing and future water needs. For current activities related to imported water supplies, click here.

Recharge and Recovery

In 1986, the State Legislature established the Underground Water Storage and Recovery program to allow entities with surplus water supplies to store that water underground and recover it for use at a later time. For example, any surplus water resulting from a seasonally wet year could be stored underground to be used during a seasonally dry year. Later, in 1994, the Legislature enacted the Underground Water Storage, Savings, and Replenishment Act which further defined the recharge program.

The recharge program, administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), provides another tool for Arizona communities to achieve safe-yield, the balance between groundwater withdrawal and recharge, by recycling local water supplies. The City currently sends surface water supplies, in accordance with associated legal documents, and any reclaimed supplies not used for direct delivery, to the recharge facility. These recharged and recovered supplies are recognized for assured water supply purposes. The recharge facility was constructed adjacent to the City’s Airport wastewater treatment plant and the first recharge permits were issues in the early 1990s. The permits were modified in 2014 when the wastewater treatment plants were upgraded and expanded. The City’s current permits related to recharge and recovery are listed below.

In 2005, Prescott voters approved the Reasonable Growth Initiative (Proposition 400), which dedicated all effluent from annexation areas over 250 acres to permanent recharge. This voter-approved initiative is contained within the City Charter, November 2011, Article I Section IV.


Conservation involves many aspects which can be reviewed in the State’s current Prescott AMA’s 3rd Management Plan, and 4th Management Plan which will go into effect January 1, 2017. These plans outline conservation requirements by the State of Arizona related to the water system itself and the use by the water customers:

  • The City has a web page dedicated to assisting the community with water conservation efforts, click here.
  • For system conservation, the City has maintained system losses below 10%, as required by law, since the mid-1980s. This is accomplished through leak detection programs which are coupled with capital project planning in 5 or 10 year periods that determine which lines are scheduled for maintenance or replacement.

Drought Preparedness

Since 1992, the City Code has contained protection requirements for supply interruptions such as drought or infrastructure/equipment failure. This Code is updated when there are changes related to the City’s safe production capabilities. The most recent update was in 2012. City Code 3-10-11, is the basis for the Drought Management Plan which the City must file in accordance with the State of Arizona every five years as required by A.R.S. § 45-342.