Column: It's rural AZ's turn to secure water needs

Like many of you, I have been watching the battle unfold between Salt River Project and rural Arizona. The more I read, the angrier I get - perhaps because the issue is so personal to me.

From 1965 to 1969 I served as Chairman of the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission. The role of the Commission was to represent Arizona's interests in a 7-state battle over the flows in the Colorado River. It was a long, uphill battle peppered by intense negotiations, contentious litigation and multi-faceted lobbying efforts in Washington.

Even though rural Arizona didn't stand to benefit directly from the Colorado's supplies, we understood that it was important to all of us that there be enough water to meet the demands of the state's rapidly growing cities like Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson. Rural legislators like Sam Steiger and others testified before Congress, while rural attorneys, like me, fought hard in the boardroom and the courtroom to secure the state's allocation. We reached our goal, and out of that victory, the Central Arizona Project was born - the backbone of central Arizona's water budget.

Now, it's rural Arizona's turn to secure its long-term water needs. Unfortunately, SRP has forgotten how critical rural Arizona was in the water fight that took place 40 years ago.

As we look to develop our vast groundwater reserves - the only remaining water available to us - SRP's response (and the central Arizona interests it represents) is to claim they own this water supply, not us. SRP's idea of returning the favor to rural Arizona is to pick off our communities one at a time, dictating how much water we can have and where we can get it. For example, SRP prevented Payson from accessing local groundwater supplies, capped William's groundwater withdrawals at 700 acre-feet of water per year, and is attacking the water rights of individual property owners in the Verde and Salt River watersheds.

Now they are coming after Prescott and Prescott Valley. By defining surface water in a way unrecognized by any state court, SRP is challenging the communities' ability to pump groundwater from a well field more than 20 miles from the Upper Verde River. If we apply SRP's definition of surface water, every groundwater well in the state is at risk.

Rural Arizona must pay attention to what is happening here. SRP has set its sights on controlling every drop of water in the state, with little or no regard to the needs of our rural communities. If SRP wins the battle with Prescott and Prescott Valley over the Big Chino Water Ranch Project, they will lock up all the groundwater and with it, rural Arizona's economic future.

What SRP is doing to rural Arizona is not right. It is not fair. SRP should take a lesson from our battles with California over the Colorado River; water is to be shared - not owned. The biggest straw in the system should not dictate how we manage the state's precious water supplies. It is time for rural Arizona to unite on this issue and send a clear message to SRP that it doesn't get to control all the water in Arizona. It is SRP's turn to work with rural Arizona to ensure that we all have the water supplies we need to sustain our futures.

About the Author:

Douglas J. Wall, Esq., spent most of his career in Flagstaff and now calls Prescott Valley home. In addition to serving as chairman of the Arizona Interstate Stream Commission from 1965 to 1969, he has served as a past member and president of the Arizona Board of Regents and continues to serve the state of Arizona in numerous capacities.