County will comment on water case, call regional meeting
Yavapai County supervisors agreed Monday to submit a brief in the Gila River adjudication case.
County officials have found out they have standing in the case, because the county owns at least 11 wells and/or water rights and became a claimant back in 1985. That allows the county to submit its comments directly to the court.
The supervisors agreed that the brief will mirror the three comments that their Water Advisory Committee suggested:
• Small, private existing wells should be grand-fathered and exempt from any decision that they are pumping surface water.
• The court should allow groups of well owners in a specific area to join together in proving they are not using surface water.
The court now requires each well owner to prove individually that his/her well is pumping groundwater, once that well is included in a map showing "subflow zones" that are pumping water that directly supplies rivers and streams.
• The Department of Water Resources shouldn't rush its effort to identify the subflow zones in the Gila River Basin. Instead, it should wait until ongoing studies offer more information, such as the Verde River basin studies that the water committee has commissioned.
The committee's current studies aren't scheduled to be done until 2005, but some helpful information for the court may surface before that, committee Coordinator John Munderloh said.
The subflow issue is extremely important to this county, officials agreed Monday – especially since the Salt River Project is asserting its ownership of water in thousands of wells in this county.
"The Verde Valley and Yavapai County as a whole is in jeopardy," Supervisor Chip Davis said.
Davis was anxious to appropriate money to hire experts to help with the brief, but staff said the brief will relate more to policy issues than scientific data. Munderloh will write it with the help of two county government lawyers, Deputy County Attorney Randy Schurr and Board of Supervisors Attorney Dave Hunt.
The need for scientific back-up of the regional stance will come with the next step, staff said.
In the next step, the supervisors plan to call a meeting of interested parties who own wells or water rights in the Verde River basin within this county.
They hope that people in this county can come up with a position paper and funding agreement that will guide their response when the Arizona Department of Water Resources
(ADWR) releases a report on March 29.
The judge in the Gila River adjudication case ordered ADWR to come up with tests to determine what wells might technically be pumping surface water near waterways, or "subflow." Other parties have until May 13 to respond to the ADWR report.
Davis and Board of Supervisors Chair Lorna Street agreed to ask Water Advisory Committee Coordinator John Munderloh to facilitate a regional response to the ADWR report. Supervisor Gheral Brownlow was out of town, but he said last week that he agrees with the actions, too.
Davis said the Verde Valley Water Users Association already is working on the issue and could be a vehicle for a regional response, but Street and staff said they would prefer that the county call a meeting of all interested parties in this county.