LAKE HAVASU CITY – It was a ridiculous agreement, according to Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould, but not without merit.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors voted in May 2017 to buy a 15-acre plot of Mohave Valley farmland, which has been leased for more than three decades by Wakimoto Farms. That lease was extended by another year at Tuesday’s board meeting.
Under the lease, Wakimoto will pay $70 for each of the 15 acres, annually – a total of $1,050 per year. With regular payments on Wakimoto’s lease, it would take Mohave County more than 238 years to recoup its $250,000 purchase, without increases to the rate of Wakimoto’s lease.
“As a business decision, it made no sense,” said Gould, who was elected the board’s District 5 supervisor in August, well after the land was bought. “But that isn’t why the land was purchased. It was purchased so we would have standing in any potential lawsuit involving MVIDD, and it would give us a vote with MVIDD. The lease on the farm is ridiculous – they’ll never pay the thing back, ever, but that isn’t why we chose to buy the thing.”
With the $250,000 purchase, Mohave County adopted the lease agreement held by Wakimoto Farms, which is owned by Victor Wakimoto – the former brother-in-law of Lois Wakimoto, who until last year served as Mohave County’s District 5 supervisor. An extension of Wakimoto’s lease will effectively ensure Mohave County’s say in decisions made by the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District.
Mohave County supervisors voted last May to purchase the land in order to make the county a stakeholder in discussions about water transfers by the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District. The agricultural land receives an allotment of two acre-feet of water per year, as well as additional water through agreements with an adjacent landowner, to grow alfalfa.
As such, Wakimoto Farms’ efforts on the land is critical to the county’s agenda. Under Arizona law, only agricultural land owners may vote on matters of the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District – and the county only qualifies for as long as someone is farming the land.
Under the lease, Mohave County has applied with the Drainage District for additional water allocations, according to Mohave County Manager Mike Hendrix.
“In reviewing the lease agreement, it’s the responsibility of the farmer to provide whatever water is necessary to farm,” Hendrix said. “The MVIDD’s responsibility is to allocate what water they have to allocate, and they will look for solutions to help us continue to farm. They’re confident Mohave County will get what additional allocations are necessary to allow this lease agreement to go forward.”
According to Hendrix, Mohave County could potentially be entitled to five acre-feet of water through its ownership over the farm, and may pursue those water rights at some point in the future.
The vote to extend Wakimoto Farms’ lease on the land was approved in a 4 to 1 vote. District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson, of Lake Havasu City, cast the only dissenting vote, citing concerns over the legality of such a decision.