Thu, May 23

Water Users updated on adjudication<br><i>SRP joins VVWU at annual meeting</i>

VVN/Steve Ayers

Dave Roberts (left), SRP Water Rights and Contracts manager, and Greg Korn-rumph, senior analyst for Water Rights and Contracts, spoke at the annual meeting of the Verde Valley Water Users on Tuesday. At the end of the meeting, the two were subjected to the slings and arrows of some of the members during a question and answer period.

The Verde Valley Water Users was formed in 1984 to protect the interest of water users in the Verde Valley. Its members include well owners, farmers, ranchers, private and public water companies, and valley communities.

The 30-year-old adjudication is destined to settle all surface water rights in the Gila River watershed, which includes the Salt and Verde rivers.

The adjudication will eventually decide who has what right to what water, how much water and in what order of priority.

Davis opened the meeting by listing no less than 24 other organizations involved in water issues in central and northern Arizona.

"The VVWU is the only organization, out of them all, that has inserted themselves into the adjudication," Davis said, "and they are the only one attempting to make any change in the legal situation. It's an enormous challenge"

Davis then went on to inform the members of the cities of Williams and Flagstaff's new 3,000-foot wells and Prescott's intentions of pumping 13,000-acre feet of water annually from the Big Chino aquifer, both of which are expected to affect the flow of the Verde River.

Davis also told the attendees how the Title II legislation connected to the Ruskin Land Exchange, which likely will bring a federal presence into the Verde River water battles.

"We are all unsure what that will bring," he said.

Dave Roberts, Water Rights and Contracts manager for SRP then gave the crowd of about 100 people an overview of SRP's place in the adjudication. SRP initiated the adjudication in 1974 by asking the courts to settle water rights claims on the Salt River watershed.

Two years later they filed on the Verde River.

"We believe it is in everybody's interest to make a final determination on water rights," Roberts said. "It will eliminate risks and provide certainty for all parties."

"We originally thought the whole thing would take a couple of years," Roberts said, "but the scope of the adjudication and the various issues introduced have caused the process to take a lot longer."

Part of the problem, Roberts explained, has been the inclusion of Indian water rights and the questions regarding the delineation of groundwater and surface water into the case.

"We have been very successful in settling the Indian claims through the legislative process, but much of the surface water and groundwater issue, which we figured had been sorted out in the 1930's, remains," Roberts said.

He explained that SRP is concerned about growth in both Prescott and the Verde Valley. Both areas draw water from the Verde River Watershed, which supplies 35 to 40 percent of SRP's surface water.

"It is not SRP's intention to make the residents of the Verde Valley pay SRP for their water," Roberts said. "Our primary motive is to prevent the larger water companies from moving water out of the subflow of the river to areas of development that have not previously had water service.

"We would like to see the Verde Valley begin to sever and transfer other water rights within the valley," he added, "such as retired irrigation rights and effluent credits. There are many such rights available and we would like to see the water companies begin acquiring those rights.

"As far as the irrigation companies in the valley, their rights are well established. In the end, we will be doing those companies a favor by firmly establishing their rights to surface water."

Roberts' presentation was followed by VVWU attorney Rick Mabery, who gave an update of progress currently taking place in the court.

According to Mabery, the biggest question before the court is determining what is surface water and what is groundwater.

"Today's science of hydrology is far more sophisticated than it was years ago," Mabery said, "and as a result there are new questions as to what constitutes subflow."

The right to surface water in Arizona is based on "prior appropriation," which says the first to make a claim on the water is the first to have a right to the water. It also defines surface water as all water flowing in a stream and the subflow of water beneath that stream.

The court has already defined the subflow as the "saturated Halocene alluvium," the course sand, gravel and permeable rock beneath and adjacent to a stream that was laid down during the Halocene period (the last 10,000 years approximately).

"We are arguing that the deep wells in the Verde Valley that penetrate non-permeable layers beneath the saturated Halocene alluvium, the layer many in the Verde refer to as the "blue clay," and are cased through the Halocene alluvium, are not taking water from the subflow of the Verde. That water is, therefore, groundwater, and not subject to the surface water adjudication," Mabery said.

He pointed out that not all hydrologists agree on that point.

"One thing is for sure, the line delineating the Halocene alluvium is not defined," Mabery said, "and the Supreme Court has said that there are many determinants that decide if a well is in the Halocene alluvium."

Last year the VVWU spent over $40,000 arguing this point and several others before the court. The final determination by the court will have a direct impact on SRP's claim that the larger wells are taking water that rightfully belongs to them.

This legal question and other related issues are being presented to the court in cases related to the San Pedro River watershed in Southern Arizona. The San Pedro is the first watershed whose rights are being adjudicated in the case.

The Verde River is next.

One point the VVWU have been successful in establishing is that what applies to the San Pedro does not necessarily apply to the Verde River.

"The court has already said that a standard that is appropriate to one basin cannot be applied to another basin," Mabery said.

"The San Pedro has wider and deeper aquifers than what is here," he said. "We have what we believe to be a confining layer beneath the Verde, among other differences. We are geologically different."

According to Mabery, oral arguments for the brief the VVWU filed will be heard this coming summer.

Like everything else related to the case it will be costly.

For this reason the board of the VVWU made an appeal to every well owner in the Verde Valley to become involved and join the organization.

"The train is coming," Davis said, "and we need to be ready."

Information and applications for joining the Verde Valley Water Users can be found at or by calling (928) 567-3119. Annual dues are $25.