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Thu, Feb. 20

State water official questions law change for Young's Farm

PHOENIX – Arizona Department of Water Resources officials say Young's Farm doesn't need a change in the law to have a secure water supply.

ADWR Assistant Director Jim Holway said Thursday that although he doesn't know offhand of any other farms the law change would help, other people might seek special new water rights in the future if the Young's proposal becomes law.

The state hasn't created any new type of water rights for two decades, he said.

"You really don't go creating a new water right for anyone who thinks they're in a unique situation," said Holway, who questioned whether the proposal isn't an attempt to publicize the farm's fund-raising effort.

The Young family's proposed change to the state's groundwater code would create a new "protected farmland category" for limited situations such as the Young's, where the owners have signed legal documents committing to keep the land as a farm forever.

Since the state's groundwater code went into effect in 1980, the Young's Farm irrigation rights have decreased from 4.4 acre-feet of groundwater per acre to 2.9 acre-feet. The state has reduced groundwater allotments on farms throughout its five active management areas to force farmers to use water more efficiently.

Gary Young worries that his allotment could decrease even more in the future, and he needs more like 3.5 acre-feet for the variety of vegetables that his family's farm grows and sells on site.

The current allotment for Prescott Active Management Area farms is based on 75 percent efficiency in the irrigation system, which is 5 percent more lenient than some other AMAs because of the type of soils here, Prescott AMA Director Jim Holt explained to the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee Wednesday.

It is "not our expectation" to seek a higher percentage of irrigation efficiency in the Prescott AMA, Holt said.

Holway agreed.

"There is no intent to change (the 75 percent requirement), and I'm not sure we could if we wanted to," because they'd have to conclude that the soil changed, Holway said.

Other parts of the groundwater code encourage farms inside AMAs to sell out sooner rather than later, because state officials have calculated that agriculture uses a lot more water than residents.

For example, the longer farms wait to sell their land, the less their sellable water rights are worth.

However, a bill that Sen. Ken Bennett of Prescott sponsored in 2000 puts a 10-year moratorium on the reduction in value.

Young lobbied enough for that law change that the bill became known as the "Young's Farm bill."

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