Court says Mohave County may participate in water transfers

"... contrary to law, was arbitrary and capricious, and was an abuse of discretion." Judge Crane McClennan Maricopa County Superior Court

PHOENIX - A Superior Court judge ruled in favor of Mohave County regarding the transfer of water rights by Freeport Minerals Corp. from wells near Wikieup to the company's Bagdad mine in Yavapai County.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Crane McClennan concluded that a November decision by the Arizona Department of Water Resources was "contrary to law, was arbitrary and capricious, and was an abuse of discretion."

The court order filed June 11 voided the decision and sent the matter back to ADWR for further proceedings in which Mohave County may participate.

Mohave County contends that ADWR was wrong in saying the county lacked "standing" to object to Freeport's application to sever and transfer water rights in the Planet Ranch area near Wikieup.

McClennan ruled Mohave County does have the right to object to proposed water rights transfers within its jurisdiction on behalf of constituents.

"ADWR said we don't have an interest in this. He said we do have an interest," Mohave County Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Moss said Wednesday. "It's private property and removing the water would limit economic growth prospects. It's also against public interest."

Freeport is allowed to take 10,000 acre-feet a year from Planet Ranch under the Bill Williams River Settlement Act passed in December.

Moss said Mohave County is not asking for money from Freeport but is asking to protect its citizens from undue costs resulting from the water agreement.

"They can't finish the agreement while Mohave County has a legal objection. Until the issues are worked out, this is essentially on hold," Moss said.

The city of Scottsdale bought Planet Ranch, located along the Bill Williams River, in 1984 as a "water farm." Scottsdale later abandoned those plans and sold the land to Freeport in December 2011.

Freeport and Scottsdale filed 17 applications with ADWR in 2010 to sever and transfer water rights in Planet Ranch. Eleven of those applications were to transfer rights for mining purposes in Yavapai County.

Mohave County filed objections in September 2010 to diverting water to another county, and filed a notice of appeal for judicial review in December, following ADWR's decision that the county had no standing in the matter.

"This has been a yearlong fight against a water and land transfer, and is a big win for Mohave County and all rural counties," Supervisor Jean Bishop said. "Mohave County stands firm in protecting our citizens and future generations."