TRUSTED NEWS LEADER FOR COTTONWOOD, CAMP VERDE & THE VERDE VALLEY
Sat, Dec. 07

Verde River Basin Partnership Must Include All Stakeholders

The Verde Independent/ Camp Verde Bugle and Daily Courier has reported the Verde River Basin Partnership is taking shape. However, it appears that the Verde Valley isn't included in the shaping process.

The newspapers have reported that "Central Yavapai municipal and county officials agreed Wednesday to insist that only elected officials sit on the Verde River Basin Partnership." The tri-city proposal would weigh votes based on population.

It is displeasing to read the suggestion that the Verde River Basin Partnership be limited to votes of elected officials based on population.

Bill S161, Title II, highlights high stakes issues within the Verde Valley. Outnumbered by the tri-cities, the Verde Valley would have absolutely no control over its own destiny.

Bill S161 affirms who will participate in the Partnership, and it doesn't notate just elected officials. Certainly elected officials are highly important in the decision-making process and must have the opportunity to represent their constituencies. However, to exclude all other entities does not honor the intent of the bill.

S161, Title II, SEC. 201. PURPOSE.

The purpose of this title is to authorize assistance for a collaborative and science-based water resource planning and management partnership for the Verde River Basin in the State of Arizona, consisting of members that represent--

(1) Federal, State, and local agencies; and

(2) economic, environmental, and community water interests in the Verde River Basin.

Key words are a collaborative process. Some elected officials claim too many special interest groups were involved in the Feb. 11 forum. A list of roundtable participants is available at http://www.vwa.org/documents/roundtable-participants-vrb-partnership2-11-06.htm.

Participants represented a good mix of entities listed in Sec. 201. Of the 41 people at the round table, 14 were elected officials from municipalities, the Yavapai-Apache Nation and the board of supervisors from three counties.

There were 13 governmental agencies including the Bureau of Reclamation, National and State Parks, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Department of Water Quality, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arizona Game and Fish, and the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee, among others. SRP is quasi-governmental.

There were two high school students, one each from the Prescott and Verde areas. There were 12 groups that represented economic, environmental and community water interests. They included the Prescott Association of Realtors, Arizona Water Company, Cottonwood and Verde Ditch Associations, Yavapai Cattlegrowers Association, Prescott Creeks and Northern Arizona University's Watershed Research and Education Program. Yavapai Ranch owner Fred Ruskin was invited. Six environmental-type organizations participated ‹ the ones that raise the hackles of some elected officials that might label them as extreme. However, Sec. 201 of Title II specifically states that environmental and community water interests will be members of the Partnership. It's not an option to cut them out.

Unless elected officials plan to fund the federally mandated Partnership themselves, they should consider honoring Sec. 201. Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl collaborated on the bill and ensured its passage in the Senate. Congressman Rick Renzi supported the bill and got it passed in the House. President George W. Bush signed it into law. Funding most likely will come through a mix of federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. They will participate only if invited. Municipalities and counties collaborating alone do not have the resources to meet the mandated studies and timelines in the bill.

People who care about Granite Creek, Watson and Willow Lakes, Lynx Creek, the Verde River, Oak Creek and other streams and riparian areas in the watershed are not special interests, and to label them as such is demeaning. A creative method that includes ALL stakeholders must be developed, or this whole effort is for naught.

The Verde River Basin Partnership is not intended to be an autocratic, dictatorial and authoritarian body. Elected officials in the Verde watershed ‹ both central Yavapai and the Verde Valley ‹ are dedicated to supporting their constituents' interests and have the creativity, savvy and smarts to collaborate on a mechanism that includes all stakeholders.

Verde River Basin leaders will shake hands with success when they acknowledge that achievement is the product of many minds, hearts and hands working together.

Diane Joens serves on the Cottonwood City Council and the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee.

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