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6:29 AM Fri, Sept. 21st

Local water groups debate cooperation, consolidation

PRESCOTT - Locally elected officials renewed an age-old topic during the Yavapai County Water Advisory Committee meeting Wednesday, discussing whether local water groups should work more closely together.

The Prescott and Prescott Valley councils, as well as the Verde River Basin Partnership's coordinating committee, also have broached the subject at recent meetings. The Upper Verde Watershed Protection Coalition plans to discuss it at its 2 p.m. Wednesday meeting at Prescott City Hall, and the Verde River Basin Partnership general membership expects to talk about it on July 9.

Some county and municipal leaders - such as Chino Valley Mayor Karen Fann, Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig and Prescott City Council Member Bob Luzius - want the water committee, protection coalition and Verde River Basin Partnership to join together somehow.

"Wouldn't it make sense if we were all one group?" Fann asked.

Other, such as Prescott Mayor Jack Wilson, said they just want to see the groups work more closely together on projects such as water supply studies.

"If you don't put the three together, all you really have is the promise to work together," Von Gausig responded. "We do that now."

Dewey-Humboldt Council Member Len Marinaccio and Jerome Town Council Member Jane Moore said they don't see how the groups can merge.

"Who gives up their ideology to form a different group?" Marinaccio said. He later added, "Our vision of what is a good healthy Verde River isn't the same."

Moore feared the groups would get "bogged down in the politics of how to merge the groups."

The oldest of the groups is the 9-year-old county Water Advisory Committee (WAC), which has representatives from each municipality in Yavapai County along with all three county supervisors. Most of the members are elected officials.

Federal legislation from Sen. John McCain created the Verde Partnership about 2.5 years ago. It covers parts of four counties and has a much broader membership that includes federal agencies and citizen water groups.

Prescott-area municipalities have refused to join the partnership, generally stating that they should get extra members on the partnership's governing body because they have the largest population center in Yavapai County. McCain has endorsed the current membership structure.

Prescott-area municipalities and the county government formed the Upper Verde Coalition about two years ago.

Some at Wednesday's meeting said the goal of cooperation or assimilation would be to consolidate financial resources to complete studies that McCain's legislation directs the Verde Partnership to complete.

Von Gausig said the WAC could take over the Verde Partnership's work.

"We would like to see the mission taken over," said Von Gausig, who chairs the Verde Partnership's coordinating committee. "We would like to see the funding go to the WAC."

The Partnership coordinating committee also would like to see the consensus-based WAC have the ability to approve actions with a supermajority vote so one member can't halt actions, Von Gausig said. And more groups should get representation in the WAC's technical advisory group.

So far, the federal government hasn't appropriated any money for the partnership studies.

"It's highly unlikely the funding will be available," Yavapai County Supervisor Carol Springer predicted.

Maybe the local elected groups could sign a letter asking for federal money, Prescott City Council Member Bob Roecker said.

WAC members agreed to form a small ad-hoc group with at least the Partnership to make a recommendation at the next WAC meeting in July.

"I think we can move forward with this," Roecker said. "I'm a little hopeful here."

Contact the reporter at jdodder@prescottaz.com