MOHAVE VALLEY — About 120 area residents squeezed into the Mohave Valley Irrigation & Drainage District office Tuesday to hear a presentation by a Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District representative regarding the transfer of water rights from farms in Mohave Valley for use in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.
Perri Benemelis, Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District water supply program manager, offered MVIDD board members and residents an explanation of CAGRD’s statutory mission, as well as an introduction to the rotational fallowing program that CAGRD hopes to implement within MVIDD.
Vince Vasquez, MVIDD Division II director, excused himself from the presentation because of a conflict of interest; he works for Water Property Investor, LLC, which is selling land to CAGRD.
The sale of seven properties to CAGRD is contingent on modifiying a current MVIDD resolution to allow water to move out of the district, Benemelis said. The closing of the sale is scheduled for mid-February.
MVIDD Resolution No. 90-01, passed in 1989 and revised in 2008, prohibits the transfer of contracted water outside of the water district’s boundaries.
“The information was good but there needs to be more detailed information available,” said area resident Mary Schram. “The public brought up good questions and good concerns but it still needs further deliberation.”
Bullhead City and Lake Havasu City councils and the Mohave County Board of Supervisors all have passed resolutions objecting to the acquisition of water rights by Central Arizona Water Conservation District and any movement of the water outside the district. The CAWCD uses water the CAGRD acquires.
Mohave County has involved lawyers, engineers, and Highground Public Affairs Consultants, a lobbying group, said Sup. Lois Wakimoto.
“You have an obligation to people inside the water district today and in the future,” Patrick J. Cunningham, Highground
PAC general counsel, said in addressing members of the MVIDD Board of Directors. “The Mohave County Board of Supervisors believes transferring the water outside the county should not happen as a matter of public policy.”
MVIDD board members also heard from a number of Tri-state residents who oppose the transfer of water from the district.
“I would like the board to take a hard look at this before it makes a decision,” said John Pynakker, Bullhead Area Chamber of Commerce executive director. “I think it would be terrible for the area.”
Central Arizona Project’s governing board, the CAWCD, approved the $34 million purchase of seven Mohave Valley farms for the purpose of securing rights to Colorado River water and to implement a rotational fallowing program to generate a water supply for CAGRD.
CAGRD created a pilot rotational fallowing program in 2013 with the Yuma Mesa Irrigation and Drainage District, which wrapped up in 2016.
“That’s the concept we are interested in seeing if we can implement in conjunction with the irrigation district here,” Benemelis said.
MVIDD board members took no action on the presentation.
“This was the first time they met with CAP, so this was the first official communication with CAP the district has had,” said Mark Clark, MVIDD manager. “The presentation is to let the board know what their plan is.”
The process of acquiring the land and water rights will be a long one, Clark said.
“CAP is going to have to go through the process just like anyone else,” Clark said. “The seller, in this case, is WPI and CAP is the buyer. They are private parties; the district has nothing to do with their sales transaction.
“Once CAP has closed on the properties, CAP will file an application requesting the transfer of the water from WPI to CAP. Assuming the MVIDD board approves, the transfer will be made,” Clark said.
“This happens all the time, we’ve done a lot of them,” he added. “That’s how WPI got the property, by buying it from someone else.”
What happens after the transfer of water to CAP, as the new landowner wishing to move the water out of the district, is not straightforward, Clark said.
“It’s not just the district that they will be dealing with,” Clark said. “CAP would have to come to the district and request that some of the policies that the district has in place would need to be changed to allow for the transfer of water.”
CAP would have to request the transfer of water through the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Clark said. Assuming DWR approves, the change moves into disputed territory.
“There’s some question about those final steps, which our attorney is working on,” Clark said. “So we’ll have to wait and see what all of those steps are, but I believe they would have to get approval from ADWR and Bureau of Reclamation.”
MVIDD Board Chairman Chip Sherrill thanked residents for coming to the meeting and assured them the board is listening to their comments and questions.
“This isn’t going to happen overnight,” he told them. “There is a lot we have to do.”