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Sun, Jan. 26

County signs Gila case pact with Verde

Yavapai County supervisors signed an agreement Wednesday with Verde Valley municipalities about how they'll coordinate on Gila River System adjudication issues.

Four of the five Verde municipalities also have approved the revised agreement, with the Cottonwood City Council is scheduled to vote on it Thursday.

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 "subflow" – water that directly supplies rivers and streams. Those wells could then be subject to surface water laws that require water rights.

The court also ordered ADWR to come up with a "cone of depression" test that may conclude large wells even farther away from streams are affecting surface water flows.

The ADWR report is due today.

Other parties have until May 13 to comment in response to the ADWR report.

The agreement between the county and Verde municipalities lays out how they'll go about creating their response.

Some of the Verde councils made changes to the county's draft agreement, and the supervisors were amenable to those changes during their special meeting in Prescott Wednesday.

The supervisors also made a few changes of their own Wednesday. Their approval is contingent upon a notation that the group can't use county money for an outside attorney without the County Attorney's approval. The supervisors also want the group's pooled money to go into a county Treasurer's Office account.

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

The new agreement puts the monetary commitments in writing. The municipalities will contribute at least one dollar for every resident.

The agreement also lists a variety of issues that scientific consultants and/or a water attorney may study in order to comment on the court proceedings.

The agreement says the group will create a coordinating committee with one representative each from the county and the five Verde municipalities.

The committee's first job will be to hire a water attorney, the revised agreement states.

County officials want to wait and see what attorney the group hires and what the group wants the attorney to do, before deciding whether to seek County Attorney Sheila Polk's approval to use county money toward the attorney's costs, Deputy County Attorney Randy Schurr said after Wednesday's meeting.

The County Attorney's Office may be able to help the group too, Schurr said.

The supervisors' approval of the agreement Wednesday was unanimous, but Board of Supervisors Chair Lorna Street said she was voting yes "reluctantly."

After nearly an hour in a closed-door executive session, the supervisors had a brief discussion in open session.

Street said she was concerned about "who is suing who, and who is advising who ... To me, it's a unity issue."

She noted that the Town of Camp Verde has pledged to join a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit against the City of Prescott to stop it from pumping groundwater out of the Big Chino aquifer south to Prescott. The town is concerned the pumping will reduce the flow of the Verde River downstream through the Verde Valley.

Other local government officials have wondered whether the Big Chino and other issues could end up forcing other parts of the county into a different long-term position than the Verde Valley in the long-running Gila River system case.

Supervisors already have decided to submit a brief in the Gila case that supports the thousands of residential well owners in rural parts of the county.

But it's still up in the air whether local government 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.

Supervisors said Wednesday they will wait and see what ADWR presents to the court before deciding whether to pursue a broader regional response.

Verde Valley officials already know they need to get involved in the subflow issue, after the Salt River Project asserted that thousands of the Verde Valley's wells actually are pumping Verde River subflow, 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.

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