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5:43 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

County will participate in Verde plan

The Board of Supervisors on Monday voted unanimously to participate in the Verde River Basin Partnership, at least for the next six months.

The supervisors agreed to join the partnership despite a division between Verde Valley officials and officials in the tri-city area about the structure of the VRBP.

Supervisor Chip Davis said the partnership is a result of the Yavapai Ranch exchange and Title II federal legislation. He said no template exists for the group, but part of the proposal is to "bring everyone together."

Davis said organizers have identified 43 groups with an interest in the VRBP.

Supervisor Carol Springer said Senator John McCain (R.-Ariz.), who introduced the federal legislation, indicated that the VRBP should use the San Pedro Partnership, which has 17 members, as a template.

Springer said the structure of the San Pedro Partnership includes a "preponderance of elected officials. I think this is what the VRBP lacks ­ people who have the responsibility for water management. This structure doesn't even come close to Sen. McCain's suggestion."

VRBP member Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig said, "This is an opportunity for Yavapai County and the people in the basin to receive $8 million in federal money to conduct studies to answer future questions."

Title II legislation authorizes the VRBP as a "collaborative and science-based water resource planning and management partnership for the Verde River Basin, consisting of members representing federal, state and local agencies, and economic, environmental and community water interests."

The watershed area includes parts of Coconino and Gila counties. The Verde basin includes the headwaters of the Verde River, Big Chino, Little Chino, Williamson and Verde valleys; the East Verde River: the incorporated areas of Prescott, Chino Valley, Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Camp Verde, and portions of Prescott Valley, Payson and Flagstaff.

VRBP member Dorothy O'Brien said the structure of the group includes the VRBP membership; subcommittees focusing on coordination, partnership structure and communication; and a technical advisory group.

Dan Campbell from Nature Conservatory said the technical advisory group has "four years of hard work ahead of it."

Von Gausig said the structure subcommittee would be a decision-making group developing the VRBP's bylaws.

However, Von Gausig said the VRBP has no "regulatory impact. It is only an information gathering body. The information will be given to counties, municipalities and so forth."

O'Brien said that Springer was correct, but the San Pedro Partnership is seven years old and the VRBP is seven months old.

"Come to the table and help it evolve," O'Brien said.

Springer said the formation of a structure, committees, studies and a Web site tell her the VRBP is up and running.

Von Gausig said if the county was not at the table it would not have a decision-making voice.

Springer agreed that everyone should have a voice and be comfortable with the proposals and recommendations because the organization speaks for all of Yavapai County. She said the Prescott side is not comfortable with the VRBP structure.

Von Gausig said partnership members would decide the structure and make decisions. He said the group wants the Prescott area and the county involved.

"We want the decisions to be balanced and I think there is enough collective wisdom for that to happen. I can't guarantee that if the Prescott area is not at the table that we would develop a structure that is acceptable to them," Von Gausig said.

Chairman Tom Thurman asked how the VRBP would coordinate information with the Water Advisory Committee.

Von Gausig said the WAC is not a member of the VRBP, but individual members overlap enough to prevent a duplication of studies.

"The VRBP has access to federal money the WAC does not. It would be able to perform studies the WAC would have to do on Yavapai County's or the cities' dime. The VRBP could do them on the federal government's dime," Von Gausig said.

Thurman said he would entertain a motion that the county join the VRBP for a specific amount of time to try to develop a structure more in line with McCain's vision.

Springer said that Title II requires those responsible for providing water make the main VRBP decisions.

Davis amended his original motion that Yavapai County participates in the VRBP to state that the county join for a six-month period of time. All three supervisors would serve as members of the VRBP.

Contact the reporter at prhoden@prescottaz.com