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Creating a Worldwide First in Water Management Allows Prescott Valley to Grow Responsibly

26 October 2016   K. Palmer

Innovative Water Management Gains Worldwide Recognition

Our region's water supply is heavily guarded and managed extensively. These strict management practices have made our region expert in water preservation. In fact, our own Town of Prescott Valley has been recognized globally for its novel approach to water resource management. Always planning for the future while facing challenges on numerous fronts, Prescott Valley implemented a revolutionary method for managing its water resources by holding an effluent credit auction, a worldwide first in 2007. So, what does this mean?

Effluent is wastewater that is treated and then recharged into underground space adjacent to water tables to help recharge the water supply. Recharging reclaimed water to vacant pore space in the gravels and soils above the water table creates a new, clean and renewable source of water that stretches the areas long-term supply. This effluent is monitored closely by the state to measure both the quantity of water being recharged as well as the quality of the water for health safety reasons. The amount of effluent treated and recharged into the water table is measured by the state in "credits". These credits are then provided to the Town of Prescott Valley. The Town then took these water credits and held an open, public auction.

What is important to understand is that Prescott Valley’s effluent water rights auction demonstrated that water resources have value of their own. Historically, water's municipal and agricultural pricing only included the cost of infrastructure, and operations to pump and deliver water to the consumer, but the cost of the resource is not considered. By establishing a value for water resources in Prescott Valley, market forces are now taking hold of the distribution and efficient use of the water. A new paradigm has been created. This one-of-a-kind auction established a market-based value for water rights. The water rights sold were current and future “effluent credits” that the Town had been accruing since 2003 from its aquifer recharge facility. The aquifer recharge facility receives treated wastewater (reclaimed water) from the Town’s advanced wastewater treatment plant.

The result of the public auction netted a contract for the Town valued at $67 million, in exchange for water rights that buyers can use to support applications for Certificates of Assured Water Supply necessary for new subdivision development within the Town. The proceeds from this auction helped to fund the construction of a new reclaimed water recharge facility benefitting the citizens of Prescott Valley as well as the citizens of central Yavapai County by increasing recharge efficiency by around 30%.

This approach, developed by the Town of Prescott Valley over a number of years, spearheaded by Larry Tarkowksi, Town Manager, was the first of its kind in the world and was awarded by Global Water Intelligence, in London, England. It placed second in the "Water Deal of the Year with Distinction", competing against much larger projects on the international stage.

“It was certainly an honor to not only work with a visionary and dynamic team that caused us to be recognized on the world stage, but presenting our project to an international audience in London was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate an innovative approach to water management,” stated Larry Tarkowski, Manager, Town of Prescott Valley.

The Town of Prescott Valley has utilized a very creative approach to water resource management. More importantly, Prescott Valley has positioned itself to reach "safe yield" by 2025, as mandated by the Arizona Legislature in the Groundwater Management Act of 1980. By establishing the value of our water resources and the subsequent sale of wastewater effluent credits, Prescott Valley has ensured that water is available to support continued growth of the Town and has created a revenue source necessary to build a needed pipeline to transport additional water to the region in the future.

More Info on Water in Our Region

Let’s Clear the Water - Water Resources Manager of Town of Prescott Valley Discusses How Our Water Is Protected and Monitored:

What is Effluent?

The Town of Prescott Valley has developed an aggressive water reuse program by treating and recharging treated wastewater, or effluent, into vacant space below ground and adjacent to groundwater supplies. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality carefully regulates the recharge program so that the water quality of the aquifer is not impaired and the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) carefully quantifies the amount of effluent recharged into the aquifer. The water that is recharged maintains its legal characteristic as effluent and can be used to supply water for growth without impacting groundwater levels. Technically, the effluent can be recovered from wells located a distance away from where it is recharged, alleviating any water quality concerns.

The Town operates two recharge facilities. One is located within the bed of the Agua Fria River below (southeast) of the Advanced Treatment Facility (ATF), while the other uses settling basins and is located about 1 mile north of the ATF.

Effluent recharge in the Agua Fria River, Earth berms hold water, allowing it time to infiltrate.

Recharge basins located north of the ATF.

Each unit of water recharged is added to the Town’s storage account as a credit. These credits, in turn, can be pledged to Certificate of Assured Water Supply to allow for legal subdivision growth. Because subdivision growth based on groundwater is prohibited in the Prescott Active Management Area Groundwater Basin, the credits have a significant value.


Larry Tarkowski (Town Manager) receives award for Water Deal of the Year from Mohammad Yunis in Whitehall Palace, London.
(Images courtesy of the Town of Prescott Valley Website)


Acknowledgments and Sources:

Special thanks to the John Munderloh, Water Resource Manager, Town of Prescott Valley, Larry Tarkowksi, Manager, Town of Prescott Valley, and Asim Koldzo of Global Water Intelligence, Oxford, England.
Much of this article relied heavily on, or pull quotes directly from:

“Managing Effluent to Become Millions: Strategy and Successes of an Effluent Credit Auction”

Neil Wadsworth1, John Munderloh2, John Bowman3*
1 Utilities Director, Town of Prescott Valley, Arizona
2 Water Resources Manager, Town of Prescott Valley, Arizona
3 Project Director, CH2M HILL OMI

“What is Effluent”, images and copy courtesy of Town of Prescott Valley website.