Mon, Jan. 27

Experts advise partnerships at water conference

“You need to be open, you need to be honest, and you need to show your cards,” Thomas added.

Don’t gang up on a partner, said Herb Dishlip, who helped negotiate Lower Colorado River compact issues while working for the Arizona Department of Water Resources. California and Nevada learned that one.

Gila River Basin ranchers were reluctant to get involved in regional watershed planning, partly because they feared that environmental groups, governments and Indian tribes were threatening their way of life, Gila Watershed Partnership Program Manager Jan Holder said. But they came to the realization that collaboration is the only way to solve their water resource problems.

When citing obstacles to their regional water planning, several people including Yavapai County officials said state laws don’t give local governments the ability to manage their water resources.

The state’s Growing Smarter law requires counties to consider population growth impacts to water resources, yet it doesn’t give the counties legal tools to deal with those impacts, Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis said. In fact, state law prohibits counties from considering water impacts when reviewing applications for new subdivisions.

The Legislature vetoed money that was to help local governments meet Growing Smarter requirements, added David Brown, a water attorney whose firm represents a variety of rural clients.

The state needs a system to resolve issues that arise when new development dries up existing neighboring wells, Davis added.

Local organizations need incentives to reach balanced aquifer use and preserve riparian areas, Prescott Valley Public Works Director Larry Tarkowski said.

Arizona law provides a disincentive to conserve surface water, Brown added.

The state’s 1980 Groundwater Management Code is a success story in state law, said John Sullivan, associate general manager for Salt River Project’s water group.

And the Central Arizona Project has proven to be a tremendous resource during the current drought, Sullivan said. So has the Arizona Water Bank, Sullivan and Griffin said.

Tom Whitmer, manager of statewide water planning for the Arizona Department of Water Resources, works closely with 16 rural watershed groups. Many are in the midst of creating strategic plans, water-use budgets and groundwater computer models, he said.

“Rural Arizona is committed to working on water issues,” Whitmer said. He urged more people to get involved, saying it’s a challenge for local groups to be inclusive because it’s a challenge to get people to come to their meetings.

“Collaboration is the key,” Holder agreed.

However, lack of information can be an impediment. Outside of the Verde and San Pedro watersheds, not much scientific information exists concerning rural watersheds, Whitmer said.

Instead of waiting for all the information, some Arizona watershed groups such as the Upper San Pedro Partnership operate under one-year working plans that they regularly update as new information arrives.

Some groups have scientific experience, while others such as the Gila Watershed Partnership do not, Holder said.

And some areas have very unique problems, such as the Navajo Nation, where half the population hauls its water so that conservation is not even an issue, said the nation’s water rights attorney, Stanley Pollack.

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