Sun, Jan. 19

Rural areas protest proposed water cuts

PRESCOTT - Local government officials in Yavapai County and other areas of rural Arizona are protesting the Arizona Department of Water Resources' proposal to eliminate its rural programs.

The Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee agreed Wednesday to send a letter of protest after revising a draft. Its members include all the municipalities and tribes in the county.

The two Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) officials who represent ADWR on the committee - Tom Whitmer and Leslie Graser - will lose their jobs if the proposal becomes a reality.

The proposal stems from Gov. Jan Brewer's directive to department heads to submit a plan showing how they would cut another 15 percent from their budgets. Despite previous cuts, the state still is operating in a deficit without a final budget for the year that began July 1.

While ADWR proposes to cut other areas, only the Statewide Planning Division that focuses on rural Arizona is one it plans to eliminate. ADWR Director Herb Guenther was unavailable Thursday to explain why. Statewide Planning Division chief Tom Carr resigned Wednesday.

The law mandates some of the divisions' remaining work, but not other tasks.

Yavapai County and other areas outside Phoenix and Tucson would lose several programs under the proposal.

For example, ADWR currently is providing money and Graser's expertise for an ongoing U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study that is assessing whether the Verde Watershed faces a future water shortage and, if so, whether any potential solutions could involve federal assistance.

The Bureau of Reclamation also is conducting other similar studies across rural Arizona with the help of ADWR, and is concerned enough about the ADWR budget proposal to send its own letter of protest.

"The loss of the state's Rural Water Program would be devastating to these ongoing efforts to successfully plan for Arizona's water future," wrote Carol Lynn Erwin, Bureau of Rec area manager.

Both her letter and the water committee's draft letter cite ADWR's written mission "to ensure a long-term, sufficient and secure water supply for the state."

Other examples of ADWR rural projects that would end at least temporarily with the cuts include long-standing streamflow gauges and well water depth measuring programs, Rural Watershed Initiative studies (nine currently are underway), and drought planning with local drought impact groups.

"Rural areas will see little to no activity in water measurement or data collection," the ADWR proposal states. Work in active management areas would continue.

The Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (NAMWUA) also has written a protest letter, saying the action would hurt the "economy and ecology" of the Southwest. Its members include the City of Prescott and Town of Prescott Valley.

"The assistance of ADWR is essential for rural water planning," the NAMWUA letter states. "This assistance comes at no better time than now as we experience the continuing effects of changing climate and drought on our precious water supplies."

Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson also submitted a letter protesting the end of the Rural Water Program.

"The program is a key to providing a regional perspective in water resource management for rural Arizona, along with credibility for the state and confidence to an often skeptical public," Wilson wrote.

The Legislature could consider the proposals at a special session early next month. Not all departments have submitted their proposals, which were due Oct. 9.

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