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Sun, Aug. 25

McCain tries to revive Verde Partnership

John McCain

John McCain

PRESCOTT - U.S. Sen. John McCain met privately with leaders of the Verde River Basin Partnership and Prescott City Council in Prescott Monday to try to rescue the Verde River Basin Partnership and its mission.

"I'm enthused he came back off the presidential campaign ready to go to work and get some things done in the Verde River Basin," Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis said. "He has a heartfelt concern for the river. I haven't heard that in the past."

McCain was the leader in creating the partnership through legislation that President Bush signed in November 2005. The legislation charged the partnership with organizing specific studies to improve understanding of the river.

But since then, Prescott-area municipalities have refused to join the partnership, saying they wanted extra voting representation based on their larger human population base and accusing special-interest groups of having too much power in the group. The two county supervisors from the Prescott area also prevented the county from joining, but Davis attends meetings as a leader for the Verde Valley.

McCain hasn't obtained any federal money for the studies, saying local contention isn't making that easy.

Monday's meeting apparently didn't immediately change that contention.

"I didn't see any movement to solve the political problems between the two sides of the mountain," said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, who chairs the partnership's coordinating committee. Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson agreed.

Prescott-area communities and downstream interests, including the Verde Valley and the Salt River Project that supplies water to Phoenix, sometimes have been at odds over Prescott-area communities' plans to build pipelines that would deliver groundwater from the Big Chino Sub-basin to their growing cities.

Scientists generally agree that the Big Chino supplies at least 80 percent of the baseflow for the Upper Verde River.

Six meeting participants told The Daily Courier that McCain consistently emphasized the need to preserve the river.

"We all know the Verde River is threatened, OK?" McCain told The Daily Courier before Tuesday's private meeting. "And all of us are committed to see that not happen. So we all have a common goal here."

McCain said he "respects and admires" Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Herb Guenther, who knows more about water than anyone he knows.

"Herb says the Verde River will go dry," McCain related. "Now, as to the argument as to when, Herb's not that specific."

McCain has a home along one of the Verde's tributaries.

"He has a direct connection to the river and he's pretty passionate about the river," said Wilson, who was a partnership member until he won the mayoral race.

"He was very emphatic about the protection of the Verde River," added Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, whose city is a partnership member.

Prescott City Council Member Bob Luzius, who joined the partnership coordinating committee on his own, noted that Prescott-area communities aren't the only entities that could affect the river. He cited river water waste in the Verde Valley and the potential for thousands of residential wells in the Big Chino Valley.

Meeting participants said McCain committed to meeting with other members of Arizona's Congressional delegation to try to get money for the partnership studies.

Partnership leaders supplied McCain with an updated work plan that envisions $5.2 million for four years of studies, much less than an earlier federal cost estimate.

"To me, it's fairly obvious that science is important in the efforts to protect the river," said partnership technical expert Ed Wolfe, a scientist emeritus with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The studies would increase the accuracy of a basin computer model that the USGS is building, and help identify the best places for municipal wells as well as groundwater recharge, Wolfe explained.

The partnership coordinating committee also asked McCain to revise the enabling legislation so that the partnership's mandate expires at a later date.

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