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2:52 PM Sun, Sept. 23rd

McCain letter validates Verde group

A new letter from Sen. John McCain "absolutely" sanctions the Verde River Basin Partnership group that's been meeting for nearly a year now, said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, the partnership's coordination subcommittee chair.

Other partnership leaders including Communications Subcommittee Chair Jack Wilson of Prescott agreed.

Prescott City Council Member Bob Roecker, who has been the city's spokesman on water issues, agreed that the letter appears to validate the existing group.

"I think it means we should reconsider our position, I guess," Roecker said Monday. "It certainly changes the reality of the issue."

Prescott-area governments have refused to join the partnership in its current form and have repeatedly called it an "ad-hoc group." They have argued that McCain wants it to have more locally elected officials on its oversight group.

"I just can't imagine that after this letter, anyone will bring up that tired argument that this isn't what Sen. McCain wanted," said Von Gausig, who made presentations to the Prescott, Prescott Valley and Chino Valley councils in recent months in an effort to get them to join the partnership.

The Yavapai County Board of Supervisors plans to discuss today whether to join the partnership on a more permanent basis.

McCain wrote a letter to President Bush Friday that asks the president to include $610,000 in his next budget for the Verde River Basin Partnership.

McCain seeks the money for the U.S. Geological Survey's budget so it can create a water budget for the Verde Valley. Water budgets show the amount of water

coming into a region and flowing out of it.

In his capacity as the partnership's coordination subcommittee chair, Von Gausig sent a letter to McCain this past month seeking his support for a $610,000 appropriation in the federal budget year that begins Oct. 1.

By asking for money for the partnership, McCain is sanctioning this group as the official partnership he called for in the Title II language he attached to the Northern Arizona Land Exchange Act of 2005, Von Gausig said. McCain added Title II after hearing fears that changing federal land to private land in the Verde Valley would strain its water supplies.

The validity of the existing partnership has been a subject of controversy throughout most of 2006, as Prescott-area government officials have repeatedly questioned it. The Prescott-area communities represent the largest population base in the Verde Basin.

The law is somewhat vague on exactly how the partnership's membership should look.

McCain's Jan. 12 letter to the president states that the "Partnership is comprised of representatives from federal, state, and local authorities, as well as economic, environmental and community water interests in an effort to preserve their shared but limited water supply.

"These stakeholders are working in a collaborative manner as partners with the common goal of establishing a science-based water supply conservation program for the Verde Basin watershed."

Von Gausig noted that the letter repeatedly refers to the partnership as an existing group, and his group is the only group even claiming to be the partnership.

"This is what the partnership has been waiting for," Von Gausig said. "I can't imagine anybody

taking it any other way.

"So we can drop the 'ad-hoc,' hopefully."

McCain's office was closed Monday for the federal holiday, so his staff was not available for comment.

The federal law he authored requires the partnership to conduct various studies.

The U.S. Geological Survey needs better Verde Valley water budget estimates so it can assess the potential long-term consequences of various water-use scenarios on groundwater levels and Verde River flows, McCain's letter says.

In a presentation late this past year, Chino Valley Water Resources Manager Mark Holmes said the "ad-hoc group proposes to duplicate this (Verde Valley water budget) effort and waste taxpayer dollars."

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.c