Better deal to dry than the Verde Valley

Joel Nilsson’s editorial "A Deal Drying Up" about the Yavapai Ranch Land Exchange in the Aug. 16 edition of the Arizona Republic presents an unscientific and biased description of the issues. We count 15 misstatements, but will discuss only several of the most significant because of space limitations.

"The property, northwest of Prescott, is full of towering ponderosa pines, juniper and grasslands..." The Map of Ponderosa Pine Forest in Arizona, published by the University of Arizona Office of Arid Lands Studies, shows no areas there designated as ponderosa. A visit shows it to be almost entirely grassland and scrub juniper. It is a long stretch of the truth to characterize the Yavapai Ranch land as covered with ponderosa This property has little value despite the large number of acres involved.

"The proposed trade has been worked out with the U.S. Forest Service and is backed by most Verde Valley communities..." In truth, all the mayors of the Verde Valley communities have written letters opposing this trade except the mayor of Camp Verde. A proposed Camp Verde land use general plan, which would have allowed for incorporation of the nearby trade lands, was recently defeated in a general election.

A town meeting in Camp Verde hosted by Senator McCain last fall to hear public comment on the trade was attended by more than 600 citizens, with many more turned away by Camp Verde public safety officers. The overwhelming majority expressed opposition to the trade.

"The opposition has seized the issue of water supply ... to thwart the trade … (stating that) the watershed will be irreparably harmed and the river could dry up." The Verde Valley watershed and the river flow are entirely different issues and one has nothing to do with the other.

Municipal wells on the east side of the Black Hills (Mingus Mountain) supply the water for Clarkdale, Cottonwood and Camp Verde. Wells are going dry in the area, as there is very little watershed to support the aquifer. Paving over a portion of the local watershed recharge area is a serious matter, and the requirements of a thousand new homes would make the problem worse.

The USGS has an ongoing study to determine the water available to support new growth. This study is scheduled for completion in 2007. What’s the hurry? That land will still be there in 2007.

The supposed fear of the river going dry is a gross distortion as well as a separate issue. The upper Verde River is fed by drainage from the valleys to the west and northwest of the Black Hills. USGS studies and others have made it clear that over-drafting the water table in that area will dry up the first 22 miles of the stream.

Other springs and tributaries will revive the river below that point, although with a reduced flow. Herb Guenther of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, speaking at the Camp Verde meeting, flatly stated that "the upper river will go dry in time because of planned development in the upper watershed."

Fred Ruskin’s agreement with Yavapai County for a major city in the Big Chino will only exacerbate the rate of water table draw down. The real losers will be homeowners already in the area, as well as the newcomers, who will inevitably need to drill deeper and deeper wells, chasing the water table.

"Ruskin has a development agreement with Yavapai County, and water to serve the 25,000 homes that would be built absent the trade...about 10,000 acre feet (per year)...." The agreement does not specify the number of homes and has nothing to say about not building if the trade goes through.

In fact, the trade would consolidate his checkerboard lands into a single block near the Big Chino aquifer, and would make the development more feasible with a great impact on the source water of the Verde River.

"Think about that. Drawing out 10,000 acre feet a year for homes vs. a maximum withdrawal of 700 acre feet from deep wells in Camp Verde ... That’s no contest." Think about it indeed. Please; 10,000 acre feet of water drawn from the river headwaters on the other side of the mountain cannot in any way be traded off for 700 acre feet drawn from municipal wells in the Verde Valley.

Also, the withdrawn Big Chino water is paleo water that recharged the aquifer thousands of years ago. And there is nothing to prevent both developments if the trade goes through.

Readers interested in the Yavapai Ranch Land Exchange may consult the following Web site: http://www.ringsforever.com/~yavapai/articles.html

The above commentary was written by Bill Goss, Cottonwood, president of the Verde River Citizens Alliance; and Win Hjalmarson, hydrologist, Camp Verde.

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