Thu, Jan. 23

County considers water case agreement Wednesday

Yavapai County supervisors will conduct a special meeting today to consider an agreement with Verde Valley municipalities about the Gila River system court case.

Last week the supervisors approved contributing $22,000 to help a Verde Valley coalition hire scientists to research technical issues surrounding the case's subflow issue.

At their 10:30 a.m. meeting in Prescott today, the supervisors will consider signing an intergovernmental agreement about how to spend the money, hire consultants and review their reports.

The judge in the Gila River system adjudication case has ordered the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to come up with tests to determine what wells in the Gila River system might technically be pumping surface water near waterways, or "subflow." The ADWR report is due Friday.

Other parties have until May 13 to respond to the ADWR report.

The Salt River Project already is asserting that many of the Verde Valley's wells actually are pumping Verde River surface water, instead of groundwater that doesn't require water rights to use. SRP has some of the most senior water rights on the river for its Phoenix metropolitan area customers.

The draft agreement for the county and Verde municipalities says the group will create a coordinating committee with one representative each from the county and the five municipalities. The committee would select consultants, approve expenditures and accept reports.

The agreement lists a variety of issues the consultants may study in order to comment on the court proceedings.

It's still up in the air whether local officials will try to come up with a broader response to the case that represents the entire portion of the Gila River system inside Yavapai County. The Gila system includes the Verde, Hassayampa and Agua Fria river basins that encompass most of the county.

Board of Supervisors Chair Lorna Street has advocated such a regional response.

That issue may come up in today's meeting, County Administrator Jim Holst said.

In one attempt to organize a meeting between the Verde Valley and Prescott tri-city municipalities on March 14, officials from fewer than half of the municipalities attended.

The county supervisors already have decided to submit a brief in the Gila case, listing three comments that its Water Advisory Committee recommended:

• Small, private existing wells should be grandfathered 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 Department of Water Resources shouldn't rush its effort to identify the subflow zones in the Gila River System. Instead, it should wait until ongoing studies offer more information, such as the Verde River basin studies that the county water committee has commissioned.

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