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8:11 AM Wed, Nov. 14th

Verde River Basin study gets donation

The Walton family of Wal-Mart fame plans to donate $250,000 to the Verde River Basin Partnership for a long-awaited water study, the partnership announced Thursday.

Congress created the partnership five years ago to conduct specific studies, at the urging of Sen. John McCain. But the partnership has never been able to get federal money to conduct the studies, mainly because Prescott-area communities refuse to join the partnership.

Partnership Coordinating Committee Chair Ed Wolfe said Thursday that the Walton Family Foundation will donate $250,000 for the first phase of the study outlined in federal law.

"It's exciting," Wolfe said. "I'm really pleased."

The money will go straight to the U.S. Geological Survey, which will conduct the study.

The study will focus on a Verde Valley water budget, and analyze how various future water-use scenarios would affect surface water and groundwater supplies.

The Walton Family Foundation has a written five-year strategy for its "Freshwater Initiative" that is focusing on the Mississippi and Colorado River basins. The strategy specifically mentions the Verde River.

"The Freshwater Initiative's primary objective is to ensure healthy and resilient communities of both wildlife and humans in targeted river systems," foundation materials state.

The foundation does not accept unsolicited grant proposals, its materials state. Wolfe said he first approached the foundation a while back, but more recently the foundation approached him.

The Verde River Basin Partnership will meet at 2 p.m. Monday in Clarkdale so the membership can formally vote on the grant proposal. The meeting takes place in the Yavapai College Building M137.

The partnership also will consider several changes to its bylaws.

One change would allow groups that currently are members of two caucuses to become members individually. This would make it easier for the partnership to have quorums at its meetings, Wolfe said.

Other proposed changes would add an educational component to the partnership's mission, and allow it to become a federal non-profit so donations can be tax-deductible.