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7:40 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Verde group seeks McCain support in letters

PRESCOTT ‹ Verde River Basin Partnership committee chairs are sending two letters to U.S. Sen. John McCain seeking his support.

A one-page letter from Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, chair of the partnership's coordination committee, seeks McCain's support for a $610,000 federal appropriation during the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, 2007.

The partnership estimates that amount would cover U.S. Geological Survey work on a Verde Valley water budget that McCain calls for in his Title II of the Yavapai Ranch land exchange legislation that became law in November 2005. That same legislation calls for creation of the partnership.

The partnership estimates that it will need $5 million to conduct all the Verde River Basin studies that the legislation lays out.

Another letter tells McCain that the partnership is ready to move forward with its work, regardless of whether the Prescott-area municipalities join the partnership. The author of that four-page letter is Dorothy O'Brien, a citizen chair of the partnership's communications committee.

The letter argues that the partnership has met McCain's vision for the structure of the partnership's oversight committee.

The letter cites three objections that O'Brien believes the partnership has heard from the Prescott-area communities of Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley, and it responds to those objections.

Following is a shortened description of the perceived objections and responses in the letter:

• Objection: The partnership should give extra seats to higher population areas.

Response: It's not in anyone's interest to give the Prescott municipalities the right to trump the interests of downstream communities. Most of Prescott Valley's residents and all of Dewey-Humboldt's residents live in the neighboring Agua Fria River Basin. And to give the Prescott area extra representation would require extra votes for even more Maricopa County residents who depend on the river. The Prescott area's Little Chino Sub-basin also contributes only about two percent of the river's flow as it exits the Verde Valley.

Prescott-area municipalities are members of several other water groups that don't have representation based on population, such as the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee and the Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

"We find nothing in Title II that calls for proportional representation, and we infer that the demand for proportional representation is a red herring designed to thwart creation of the Verde River Basin Partnership," O'Brien wrote.

• Objection: The partnership has too many "special interests."

Response: Environmental groups have at most three votes while the Salt River Project has one, compared to 16 votes for local governments, 11 for state and federal agencies, and eight for other water, agriculture and economic interests.

• Objection: "Elected officials need to be in control of who does the science."

Response: Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann stated in a recent radio broadcast that hydrologists are like real estate appraisers; you know you can get a low or high appraisal depending on whom you use. The U.S. Geological Survey is the gold standard for objective science with its extensive peer review process.

"The VRBP is formed and ready to proceed in its mission as outlined in Title II," O'Brien concludes in her letter.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com