Fri, Feb. 21

Education is key to water rights

Carmen Howard, community development director, Town of Camp Verde (Courtesy Town of Camp Verde)

Carmen Howard, community development director, Town of Camp Verde (Courtesy Town of Camp Verde)

VERDE VALLEY – More than 20 years ago, Carmen Howard relocated from California and bought land in Cottonwood.

“I came to Verde Valley from a culture where we all had nice green lawns, swimming pools and beautiful landscaping without a worry about water because we turned on the tap and there it was,” said Howard, Camp Verde’s community development director. “Water rights and water issues were not subjects I was well versed in.” 

Moving to the Verde Valley, and living on land with irrigation and a well “didn’t help with my ignorance about water issues,”she said.

“Rather, it made it worse, because now I didn’t get a water bill and had a seemingly abundant source to water my 2.5 acres of lush green lawn,” she said.

For Howard, the learning process began at Northern Arizona University in 2008, where she focused on the environment, and specifically, water issues.

In 2017, Howard bought her Camp Verde property. Before the purchase, Howard learned that her new property had historical surface rights “but not through any of the ditches.”

So she met with Salt River Project’s Water Rights Manager Greg Kornrumph who “provided me with historical information and maps showing the water rights on my property.”

“It was very helpful to have this resource to help me sort out and understand some of the complex issues relating to Verde surface rights and what SRP is trying to accomplish,” Howard said. “What I have learned through all my personal experience is how important it is to be educated.”

Linda Buchanan has bought and/or sold eight Camp Verde properties since 1981. Though she said water issues “mattered right away,” Buchanan was “completely unaware that what the seller disclosed on the listing and sales agreement might be completely inaccurate as to what rights you actually have.”

“And your title insurance,” she added, “provides no protection regarding water.”

By her experience, Buchanan said that a realtor, “acting in good faith, simply presents parcels to prospective buyers with the information set forth by the seller.”

A buyer who is counting on surface water diversion would be “well-advised to do their due diligence in discovering the historic water use on the parcel,” Buchanan said. “When was the parcel first irrigated (beneficial use), and have the owners continued to exercise beneficial use from its earliest known prioritization?”

Buchanan recommends that anyone about to purchase a parcel that was once part of a larger farm or ranch should make sure that it is part of the “original, irrigated acreage.”

“Some developers have expanded the use of water creating subdivision irrigation systems which exceed the original claim,” Buchanan said. “In accepting new subdivisions, neither the town nor the county exercises domain over the expansion of irrigation. What it says in your homeowner’s association documents will not trump state law. Buyer beware.”

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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