Wed, June 26

Town's batttle with SRP escalates

The latest move in a battle that has been likened to David vs. Goliath has the Town of Camp Verde spending up to $10,000 for a legal slingshot.

The town council unanimously approved on Wednesday night spending up to that amount for litigation in a case against Salt River Project.

The state Department of Water Resources is administrating a judge's ruling from last year that benefited SRP, which the town hopes to turn in its favor.

The ruling gave the company rights to a swath of saturated soil that is as wide as two miles across in some areas of Camp Verde. It barred towns from drawing well water from that swath of "subflow," but Camp Verde is among many Verde Valley cities and towns that are readying to fight the details of the decision.

The $10,000-limit amount was an unbudgeted expenditure to be taken from the town's contingency fund. If the state department and courts continue to decide in favor of SRP, thousands of well owners could end up losing their right to freely pump water – including municipal providers.

"We need to get together a war chest, basically," said Vice Mayor Tony Gioia, who is also co-chair of the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee. He said the money would go to paying lawyers and consultants to fight on the town's behalf. Gioia anticipates that experts will incorporate three-dimensional map of the area to support the idea that wells near the river do not necessarily interfere with the Verde's subflow.

SRP serves approximately 1.5 million customers and gets 35 to 40 percent of its surface water from its water rights on the Verde River, according to company estimates. About 85 percent of SRP's total water supply comes from surface water. Its senior water rights date back as far as 1869 on the Verde.

"It will help all of us," said John Reddell of approving the funds. "If we don't use the experts right, we're all going to be in trouble." Council member Jackie Baker used the Biblical analogy of David and Goliath to describe the town's odds against towering opposition.

The water companies serving Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Verde Santa Fe would have to seek new water rights if SRP is successful. Numerous wells in the Verde Valley and elsewhere in the state are likely to be affected by the outcome of decisions on the subflow of surface streams. A subflow decision is expected from the state department on March 29, and the town has until May 13 to respond.

Gioia said that the funds are well spent, as they would provide the town "a group of technical advisors at the ready to answer some of the issues…and perhaps have some attorneys to defend our position."

He concluded by paraphrasing former Prescott mayor Sam Steiger, saying that SRP is "the most hated enemy in the state."

The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee estimates that SRP's map of the Verde Valley subflow area includes 3,391 residential wells and 109 larger wells that pump more than 35 gallons per minute. The subflow zone stretches along a 23,164-acre area along both sides of the river.