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8:39 AM Mon, Sept. 24th

Ad-hoc groups support end to Verde Partnership

PRESCOTT - An ad-hoc group representing three water organizations basically agreed Tuesday that the Verde River Basin Partnership should dissolve.

The Verde Partnership's general membership is gathering for the first time today to discuss the idea.

The ad-hoc group plans to wait on its final proposal until it hears from the Verde Partnership's general membership. The ad-hoc group plans to meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 29 to flush out a final proposal.

The ad-hoc group consists of two members each of the Verde Partnership, Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee and Upper Verde River Watershed Coalition. Municipal and county government officials dominate the second two groups.

"The mainstream citizen doesn't understand why we have three groups," Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis said. "To be honest with you, I don't understand why we've got three groups."

Several ad-hoc members said it would be easier to meet major goals such as preserving the Verde River if everyone was in one group.

The ad-hoc group met for the first time Tuesday to discuss whether the three water organizations can do a better job of cooperating and maybe even merge together.

Prescott Valley Town Council Member Mike Flannery spoke against merging the Upper Verde group into the county water committee, saying the Upper Verde group focuses more on projects such as a regional water conservation plan while the other two groups are more focused on studies. He serves on both groups.

A regional conservation plan could be countywide, said Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, who serves on Verde Partnership and county water committee.

And the whole county is interested in conserving land over the Big Chino aquifer that supplies most of the water for the Upper Verde River, Davis added.

The San Pedro Watershed and Coconino Plateau areas all have singular water groups that include stakeholders outside government agencies, said Dan Campbell of The Nature Conservancy, who serves on the Verde Partnership. And they have made much more progress than Yavapai groups, he said.

All the ad-hoc members seemed to support getting rid of the partnership as long as the county water committee carries on the partnership's plan to conduct water studies laid out in the federal legislation that created the partnership.

"We don't want to throw away that effort," said Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson, who served on the Verde Partnership technical advisory group before becoming mayor.

Ad-hoc members agreed that merging groups might lead to a better chance at federal money for water studies, because right now federal and state officials view the region as split.

But ad-hoc members did not agree about how to broaden the structure of the county water committee if the partnership disappears, since the partnership has broader representation from federal agencies and stakeholders such as irrigation companies and environmental groups.

Some thought the county water committee's technical advisory committee could expand, while others thought the county committee could add a new and separate subcommittee.

Campbell suggested a new subcommittee with at least six members representing federal agencies, environmental groups and the Salt River Project (SRP), a major Phoenix-area water provider with senior Verde River water rights.

Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann liked the idea of a subcommittee, but did not like the idea of adding SRP to the county water committee's technical advisory committee.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com