Mon, July 15

Editorial: SRP Water Rights Initiative an olive branch that deserves fair consideration

VVN/Bill Helm

VVN/Bill Helm

More than 30 years ago, Cottonwood’s Norm Gunderson championed the cause of strength in numbers.

Gunderson was one of the founders of the Verde Valley Water Users Association. The organization was made up of property owners who had their own wells or had what they believed or hoped were legal water rights to the region’s myriad irrigation canals that weave their way through the Verde Valley.

Those who joined Gunderson’s group paid annual dues, which, in turn, paid the attorney and legal fees to allow Verde Valley property owners to have a voice in the ultimate adjudication of water rights.

The needle on that legal fight has barely moved in the past three decades.

Ultimately, the only winners in water rights adjudication lawsuits are the attorneys. These cases proceed at a pace that would make a turtle seem like Usain Bolt.

A lot of folks involved in these cases – those who drill a well in an unincorporated part of the Verde Valley only to find themselves on the receiving end of legal notices relating to water rights adjudication – are of the opinion that they will be long gone and buried years before this issue is ever resolved.

That’s why it’s encouraging to see Salt River Project, which has some of the most senior water rights in Arizona, embark on the test run of its “Water Certainty Initiative.” SRP has asked 125 Camp Verde property owners along the Verde Ditch to review historical documents and enter into agreements regarding historic water uses for their properties.

The “water certainty” agreements SRP seeks with these property owners means that individual property owners and SRP are in binding agreement that the property owners will not expand their water use on the parcels they own, and, in turn, SRP will not contest their historic water use rights.

Which, ultimately, lets those property owners off the hook when and if water adjudication issues are resolved by the courts.

More than 100 years ago, Mark Twain was credited with saying “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

SRP obviously understands the futility, and expense, in fighting over water rights.

Their olive branch deserves fair consideration by all property owners along the Verde Ditch, and, ultimately, all those throughout the Verde Valley.