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2:02 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Verde Partnership balks at assimilation idea

CLARKDALE - Three members of the Verde River Basin Partnership suggested Wednesday that a memorandum of understanding with other water groups might be preferable to dissolving the partnership.

But that was about as close as the partnership members came to any kind of consensus during the meeting to discuss whether the partnership should "assimilate or coordinate" with the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee and Upper Verde River Watershed Protection Coalition, as the agenda stated.

An ad-hoc group with two members from each of the three water groups met Tuesday to talk about the same issue. It leaned toward dissolving the partnership and having the county water committee take over its work.

About 30 of the partnership's 48 members attended Wednesday's partnership meeting, which was the first general membership meeting since October.

Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, who heads up the partnership's coordinating committee, explained that he uses the word "assimilation" because the groups would "become more like each other" instead of one "consuming" the other(s).

Von Gausig said state and federal officials want to see the groups join together somehow before they consider providing money for the water studies that federal legislation calls for the partnership to carry out.

Camp Verde Mayor Tony Gioia said Arizona's U.S. senatorial staff told him there is a chance for federal money if the groups come together in some way.

The Verde Valley municipalities have pledged $24,000 for the partnership to monitor approximately five existing wells in areas where the U.S. Geological Survey needs more information for its watershed computer model, noted Ed Wolfe, a member of the partnership's technical advisory group.

But those communities will not be able to cover the annual monitoring costs, Von Gausig said.

Von Gausig has stated his support for assimilating the partnership into the county Water Advisory Committee, either through a new subcommittee or through additions to the existing committee or technical advisory committee.

The county committee is the "best funded, most stable" of the groups, he said.

Kaki Rowland of the Verde Natural Resources Conservation District, Dick Ellis of Keep Sedona Beautiful and Keran O'Brien of Northern Arizona University all liked the idea of an MOU or intergovernmental agreement.

Ellis wondered how the partnership could become part of the county water committee when the watershed covers parts of four counties. Gila County is a partnership member.

Von Gausig said the other counties are not participating in the partnership.

O'Brien pointed out that the partnership's coordinating committee is a voting body while the county water committee operates by consensus. He did not like the idea of one person holding up a proposal. O'Brien noted that the partnership always has been open to all members.

Prescott-area municipalities refused to join the partnership, saying they would want representation based on population. The Prescott-area governments then created the Upper Verde River Watershed Coalition that encompasses their region.

Local water groups have tried the "divide and conquer" method of getting things done and it does not work, said Dan Campbell of The Nature Conservancy. The result has been a lack of monetary assistance and a lack of influence, he said.

The ad-hoc group with members from all three local water groups will meet again at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 29 at the Prescott Public Library.

The final decision about the partnership will be up to the entire partnership membership, Von Gausig noted.

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com