KINGMAN – Keeping water in Mohave County was the outcry of residents at Wednesday’s public hearing of the Arizona House of Representatives Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources, but some local farmers explained their reasoning behind supporting fallowing programs in Mohave Valley.
The Central Arizona Project planned to acquire property with water rights located in the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, but voted not to move forward with the proposal earlier this month. Of the nearly 14,000 acre feet of diversion water rights CAP was seeking, it would have transferred about 5,500 acre feet of water out of the county to Central Arizona each year.
Those speaking in favor of temporary fallowing programs had affiliations with the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, the first of which was board Chairman Chip Sherrill. He believes Mohave Valley’s farmers need a fallowing program, and that it would help economically balance those farmers.
“I don’t want to see the water leave in perpetuity or forever, I live in Mohave Valley, I want to keep the water there,” Sherrill said. “But on the short term or a term that would be acceptable, I’d like to see a fallowing program initiated that makes sense for MVIDD and for the rest of the state.”
Perry Muscelli, treasurer and director at large for MVIDD, echoed Sherrill’s views on fallowing.
“MVIDD just wants to work out a fallowing program with any capable authority, or several capable authorities,” Muscelli said. “We don’t want to do anything permanent, we don’t want to transfer or sell water outside of the boundary. Everything we negotiate has a term.”
Sherrill said that capable authority could include the cities of Kingman, Lake Havasu and Bullhead. Mohave County District 5 Supervisor Lois Wakimoto said she could get on board with fallowing if it would help Mohave Valley’s farmers, but not if it means diverting water out of Mohave County.
“We believe in helping our neighbors when it’s necessary, and if fallowing is needed for other areas of Mohave County, that would be a possible avenue to help this county because we are a huge county,” she said. “We just don’t want to see the Colorado River water leave the main stream. We want to see what’s on the river stay on the river.”
Vince Vasquez, director of Division II at MVIDD, is in an interesting position when it comes to the fallowing discussion. He is also affiliated with Water Asset Management, the group involved with the CAP transaction. According to MVIDD meeting minutes, Vasquez recused himself from the issue when it came before the board of directors.
Vasquez told legislators Wednesday that it’s important to consider the interconnectedness of the system, both hydrologically and economically. He said Phoenix isn’t the same with Los Angeles, and the same can be said of Las Vegas. The economic success of those metropolitan areas drives the economic success of rural areas, he said.
“Those cities are not what they are without a vibrant agricultural economy that supplies the goods and services that those healthy cities need,” Vasquez continued. “Equally speaking, the demand and the price and the value of the products and goods and services grown in those areas is not the same without the demand coming from those major metropolitan areas. So yes, there is a huge interconnectedness of this system ...”
He believes the solution is a temporary rotating fallowing program. Vasquez also clarified that the proposal wasn’t dealing with the water rights of Kingman, Bullhead City or Lake Havasu City, but that of MVIDD.
“They’re good for the system, they’re good for all of the economies involved that are connected in the system,” Vasquez said of fallowing programs. “And I think most importantly, they are very good for the farming families of the southwest. They provide proper income stability, income predictability, and wealth value creation when those incomes can be captured by the land, their land values go up.”
Arizona House Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) told Vasquez that when it comes to directing water outside of Mohave County, she doesn’t think the small number of board members, in addition to the small number of individuals able to vote for them, is an adequate representation of the approximate 16,000 people in the district.
“We’re not farming vegetables, we’re not farming hay, we’re talking about fallowing,” she said. “That’s farming water, and as far as I’m concerned that’s not acceptable.”