Verde Ditch first to try to sort water claims

Think of it as the first attempt to willingly resolve the differences between Salt River Project and the owners of surface water rights in the Verde Valley.

The key word being "willingly."

Starting last spring, the Verde Ditch in Camp Verde began a dialogue with SRP, intended to resolve the disparity that SRP claims exist between what the ditch company is irrigating and what the Phoenix area water giant says they have a right to irrigate.

According to the ditch company's attorney, Rick Mabery, the disparity SRP claims to exist includes both the total acres the ditch irrigates and the location of some of the irrigated parcels.

"The Verde Ditch serves the largest area in the valley, so it was natural for SRP to start there," Mabery said. "Another factor is that the Verde Ditch is overseen by a judge."

The discussions began in April 2005 when SRP filed an Order to Show Cause with some of the ditch shareholders. Those claims have been subsequently set aside while the two parties try to sort out the larger picture.

Mabery says a lot of the problems date back to the original shareholders.

"It was not uncommon for someone to file a claim on one piece of property, only to find out the soil conditions were not right for farming and then to move on to another piece, abandoning the first one," said Mabery.

Another factor, according to Mabery, is that both the water code and the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) have allowed water rights within an irrigation district to be moved from one parcel to another.

"ADWR allowed those transfers while the statewide adjudication has been taking place," Mabery said.

A map with a Mylar overlay that Verde Ditch boss John Reddell had made recently best exemplifies the problem.

The map is of the properties SRP says the ditch has historically irrigated since 1919, the date SRP claims separates a valid surface water claim from an invalid one. The Mylar overlay is of the properties the ditch is currently irrigating.

They don't exactly don't match up.

According to Reddell, the ditch irrigates approximately 1,450 acres. SRP is on record showing only around 1,200 acres.

Various surveys over the years have put the acreage irrigated by the Verde Ditch, or as it is sometimes referred to, the Woods ditch, between 1,000 and 1,280 acres.

"What we are doing," Reddell said, " is clearing up some of the small problems first. It is not adjudication; it is just an attempt to clarify some of the water rights along the ditch.

"We figure we will be able to satisfy many of the claims by retiring rights to property now covered by roads and houses and transferring those rights to properties with a disputed claim," Reddell said.

Reddell says he expects to complete the work within two years.

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