Mohave County leaders maintain push for water

Bill Williams River

Bill Williams River

KINGMAN - Mohave County leaders are hoping to get a collective foot in the door in their favor when it comes to water rights along the Bill Williams River and how they affect Mohave County.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors filed an objection in September 2010 with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to stop the transfer of water rights in Planet Ranch and Lincoln Ranch, which are located in Mohave and La Paz counties.

The board received notice June 4 that its objection was denied, although the state agency said the county could file an appeal within 30 days.

The board agreed last week to pursue an appeal, retaining Phoenix attorney Carlos Ronstadt to handle it. The board has invited the La Paz County Board of Supervisors to a special meeting today to discuss the matter and possibly hear a presentation from Freeport McMoRan, which now owns the water and land rights and wants to keep them.

"We're trying to say that we have a stand in the discussion and should have received something from this deal," said Supervisor Buster Johnson, District 3. "If we're shut out, it means we'll lose more water rights for development in the county and land that is taxable or could be used for development.

"We have such a little amount of land now that people pay taxes on so we can provide services."

The trouble began in March 2010, when the city of Scottsdale, which owned Planet Ranch and part of Lincoln Ranch, decided to transfer much of the water rights in Planet Ranch to the Bagdad Mine Complex, located in Yavapai County and owned and operated by Freeport.

The deal was finalized in December 2011 and the land and water rights were conveyed.

Mohave County contends the transfer should have been denied because diverting water to another county for mining operations would have a negative effect on water supplies in the area. Also, allowing it would result in a consolidation of public land holdings along the Bill Williams River corridor, placing an increased tax burden on county taxpayers.

Johnson said Freeport is trying to push the deal through, without input by Mohave and La Paz counties, and has involved several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, and the Hualapai tribe. Freeport is proposing to transfer some of the water and land rights to the tribe and the Arizona Fish and Wildlife Service..

Gosar introduced legislation June 20 that would secure water rights for the tribe, with Freeport agreeing to support a tribal water supply study and enable the tribe to purchase and secure Colorado River water rights. The deal will help cover required mitigation on Freeport's part. The bill is due to be signed July 9.

"Water in our arid state is critical to our continued economic stability and is, of course, a limited resource on which there are many existing demands that need to be met," said Gosar. "The settlement of tribal water rights claims is a priority in the state of Arizona. This bill is good for private property owners, settles an outstanding water rights settlement and will result in a net water benefit to the basin."