Fri, Jan. 17

Water battle goes before cameras<br><i>Camp Verde vs. SRP catches eye of TV news</i>

Bob Kovacovich said that Salt River Project's latest attempts to stop them and others from using water in the Camp Verde area has caught the attention of the Phoenix airwaves.

The Camp Verde landowner said that KPHO Television, a CBS affiliate in Phoenix, came up Tuesday for an interview with him and his family; he urges the public to watch.

"The story is supposed to air Friday night [May 7] on the six-o-clock news on Phoenix Channel 5. "They came because they wanted to get the perspective of the property owners up here," he said.

Newscaster Bryan Mims confirmed that the broadcast is scheduled for this evening's news but cautions that there can be delays.

SRP recently instigated five claims against 12 Camp Verde area landowners attempting to stop them from using what SRP maintains is its water. The Kovacovichs are among those named. The injunction application was filed April 26 in Superior Court of Maricopa County.

Some of the defendants said at the time that they felt SRP was trying to extrapolate their cases out of the much-larger SRP water adjudication case involving 50,000 plus defendants. SRP officials agreed at the time that if it is resolved in SRP's favor, it could help expedite the pending adjudication case, now 30 years old.

"This land, about 50 acres above the OK Ditch, is what they're complaining about," said Kovacovich, who is also a Camp Verde council member. "They are saying the well is taking water from the Verde River."

Bob's father, George Kovacovich, is clearly upset by SRP's latest allegations.

"They seem to feel we're stealing their water," George Kovacovich said. "Years ago, they sued my dad. He passed away and then it was my mother. We won in Prescott, and then they appealed in Phoenix and won.

"Our thought was then that we could drill a well and irrigate out of that and have been using water from that for 20 years. We thought that was OK, but they're making us look like crooks. At that time, you could drill wells. You get a permit, and you think everything is in order."

The Kovacoviches own a 139-acre farm in Middle Verde in Camp Verde, south of Overlook Acres. Bob Kovacovich pointed out that they received a permit to drill from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the same group responsible for the current study the courts have ordered in the adjudication case.

He said coincidentally ADWR officials were recently in the area measuring well levels.

ADWR hydrologist John Rasmann was contacted and confirmed that about eight or nine officials had been in the Verde Valley checking ground water levels but said that it had nothing to do with SRP's adjudication or its latest April 26 claims involving 12 Camp Verde landowners.

"It's part of a basin study we do every five years," Rasmann said. "We do static water levels. It has nothing to do with any SRP lawsuits. I didn't even know anything about it until I got there."

Bob said he discussed the water levels with Rasmann at the time and found out that they appear stable.

"The hydrologist told us at the time that the water levels had remained about the same. I guess they're going around keeping tabs. He was a little leery, because some think he's working for SRP. They also measure the wells in Phoenix, and he told us that their levels don't always agree with SRP," Bob Kovacovich said.

Although Rasmann was hesitant to comment, he did confirm that statement.

"There hasn't been a big change in ground water levels from the last time they were checked," said Rasmann, who said he tested two of the Kovocavichs' wells, a shallow domestic well and an irrigation well.

When contacted his boss, Reg Barnes, hydrologist in field services for ADWR, said that they are entering the data in their data base this week (they are double checking all their figures), and would have the information available to the public next week.

Bob Kovacovich said that their irrigation well is 288 feet deep but when recently measured, it was 47 feet to water. The irrigation well, he said, is about one-quarter mile from the Verde River.

George Kovacovich explained the family's longevity in the Verde Valley.

"My dad came in February of 1916 and raised a family. I also raised a family and now Bob follows suit," George Kovacovich said. "Our place was the first farm on the OK Ditch. The title read that we had shares one and two out of the OK Ditch, which took water out of the Verde River for a total of 104 acres at that time."

The family, according to both Kovacovich men, never heard any complaints from SRP until last fall and then again this spring when SRP filed its latest complaint, the injunction application.

Those named in SRP's latest April 26 filings include:

1. Shields Ranch (Henry M. Shill, Don H. Shill) irrigation on 31 acres (Clear Creek).

2. Kovacovich Investment Ltd. Partnership, Wiertzema Family Trust, Jim and Linda Wyman, Myron Ray, First American Title Trust, using water on 133 acres (Middle Verde).

3. Linda S. and Paul R. Robinson and Chester Campbell, LLC, (Chester Newton Charter & Montesorri School) irrigating on 20 acres (near White Bridge).

4. NBJ Ranch, Ltd. Partnership, irrigating on 17 acres (Clear Creek).

5. Josephine Leslie and Verde River Ranch, LLC, using water on 68 acres (Clear Creek).

Bob indicated that the Verde Valley Water Users, a local water watchdog group with 500-600 Verde Valley members, is scheduled to discuss the matter at an upcoming board meeting next week.

"One organization has to step up, either the ditch company or the Verde Valley Water Users," confirmed John Reddell, a ditch boss, also an officer in the Verde Valley Water Users group.

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