Supervisors reach out to Secretary of the Interior in water fight

Gary Watson

Gary Watson

LAKE HAVASU CITY – Mohave County is reaching out to the federal government in its ongoing battle over Colorado River water in Mohave Valley.

In a letter sent last week to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and copied to President Donald Trump and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, the county argues that the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District’s board members will benefit financially by adopting a fallowing program that could pave the way for transfers of Colorado River water to urban Arizona communities.

The letter could be the last action before the county pursues legal solutions, according to county officials.

On July 10, the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District MVIDD approved a resolution that could allow the transfer of the water outside of the district under a fallowing program. Under contractual agreements, individual farmers would be able to sell the unused water to anyone with a financial interest.

Tops on the list of interested parties in the water are the Central Arizona Groundwater and Replenishment District, despite negotiations for a $34 million land sale and associated water rights falling out with MVIDD farmers earlier this summer.

Had the sale gone through it would have diverted approximately 5,500-acre feet of water from Mohave County to towns in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties.

Mohave County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gary Watson wrote in the letter that Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District board members will benefit financially from such an exchange, violating a previous contract with the U.S. Department of Interior to keep Colorado River water in Mohave Valley.

“If there is a fallowing program it would not only hurt the district farmers, but it would also be detrimental to the district’s 16,000 residents,” Watson said. “Each one of these folks uses water.”

It is unclear, Watson said, who would pony up the money to purchase the water rights and how the fallowing program would be structured. Regardless of who would control the water, the county is taking a wait-and-see stance until details are provided by the irrigation and drainage district.

By reaching out to Secretary Zinke, Mohave County officials want to make sure their voices are heard and that the Department of the Interior enforces its prior agreement with MVIDD.

“Mohave County continues to be astonished that the directors of MVIDD believe they can sell Colorado River for their own private gain when that water is not owned by them,” Watson said.

Watson warned that moving water out of the county could stifle local economic development.

“If the people in Mohave Valley cannot use their water … it will completely stop development,” Watson said.

Watson said he anticipates hearing from the Department of Interior within the next two weeks.