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Sun, Oct. 13

County rejects SRP request to deny more Verde homes<BR>

COTTONWOOD – The Salt River Project has made an unusual request of the Board of Supervisors: deny a preliminary plat application in the Verde Valley because the housing development plans to use surface water.

The supervisors rejected the request Monday.

"We were hoping the supervisors would do the right thing, but since they didn't, we'll have to figure out what to do," Dave Roberts, water rights and contracts manager for the Salt River Project, said Wednesday. "The homeowners will be the ones left with the cost of dealing with this down the road."

SRP is one of the state's largest water providers and gets much of its supply from the Verde River.

The lengthy and ongoing Gila River system court adjudication process is trying to sort out what wells might actually be pumping surface water or "subflow" and therefore be subject to prior appropriations law that requires users to own surface water rights. SRP estimates that the court may define subflow within a year or two.

The Verde Santa Fe's two wells are about a half-mile from SRP's version of a map of the Verde River subflow area, Roberts said.

But SRP officials believe that the wells have created an underground "cone of depression" that reaches the mapped area.

In lieu of denying the preliminary plat application until the court implements the subflow standard, the supervisors should require the developers to buy surface water rights, Roberts wrote to the supervisors.

The 800-foot-deep wells are located in encapsulated limestone that is separate from the Verde River, Verde Santa Fe attorney Stephen Earl told the county supervisors Monday. They are located on a plateau more than a mile from the Verde River, said Doug Dunham, manager of the Assured Water Supply Division for the Department of Water Resources.

"We believe that SRP is casting a net over a good portion of the state, seeking to control groundwater through their control of surface water," Earl said.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources concluded in May that the development has enough water physically available to serve the proposed 953 homes and golf course for 100 years, and therefore issued a "certificate of water adequacy" allowing the development to pump as much as 555 acre-feet or 18 million gallons of water annually. The department also granted the development's application to create a water company.

"Right now, it is considered groundwater, so that's what we have to go by," Dunham said Wednesday. "We can't just shut down development in the state until a (court) decision is made."

For the past three years, SRP has routinely examined applications for 100-year water supplies and objected to many, including Verde Santa Fe, Dunham said. It also had concerns with the Del Rio Springs development near the Verde River headwaters.

Roberts' letter to the supervisors said language in DWR's approval for Verde Santa Fe "expressed concern about the legal nature of the water."

But that is standard language in DWR approvals, Dunham said.

"Since DWR found that the water is legally available by today's standard, what could the county possibly do to second-guess that finding without overstepping legal bounds?" Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee Coordinator John Munderloh wrote to the county supervisors.

In previous years, the county approved the Verde Santa Fe North development, which Cottonwood later annexed. It is located along the north side of Cornville Road just east of Highway 89A and includes 2,056 home sites and a golf course site.

The Verde Santa Fe South development on the other side of Cornville Road remains in the county's jurisdiction and has separate owners. It envisions 953 homes, and more than 200 homes plus a golf course already are built. Stardust Development received preliminary plat approval for the final 352 home sites Monday.

Stardust expects that the golf course will use effluent for nine months of the year and groundwater for the other three months, but it has the right to exclusively use groundwater.

County Assistant Development Services Director Enalo Lockard wrote that the supervisors could require a disclosure statement with final plat approval for Verde Santa Fe South's final phase. The statement would alert future lot buyers to the SRP issue.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com.

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