As headlines swirl around complex challenges faced by water managers and policy makers throughout the arid western United States, incremental progress continues in reaching accord between historic water users in the Verde River watershed.
Let me bring you up to date.
At Salt River Project (SRP), we have a role and responsibility in building a strong and broad base of collaborative water resource solutions across Arizona’s vast Salt and Verde watersheds that supply the surface water rights to our shareholders (landowners).
Locally, in the Verde Valley, that frequently includes working with the entities and individuals receiving surface water diverted from the Verde River.
During the past year, a pilot group of 125 Camp Verde landowners received written invitation from SRP to review historical documents and enter into agreements regarding historic water use for their properties.
Each of the owners contacted holds title to land irrigated from the Verde Ditch Company, utilizing Verde River surface water.
As a multi-purpose Federal Reclamation Project, SRP delivers the water supplies that support our landowners’ water rights for their private lands put up as collateral to secure the federal funds for the construction of Theodore Roosevelt Dam.
In serving that purpose for the past 115 years, SRP has effectively become one of the staunchest advocates and protectors of the entire Verde watershed, including the upper and middle reaches, far from Phoenix.
Much like the early settlement pattern in the Salt River Valley, Anglo settlers arriving in the Verde Valley as early as the 1860s established claims to ‘‘beneficial use’’ by diverting water from the Verde River to support agriculture.
Today, more than 150 years after the earliest claims, few of the original Verde Valley farms and ranches remain intact, while most have experienced multiple iterations of parcel subdivision, occasionally marked by expanded water use.
Today, historic family records and other early documentation may be beneficial to landowners in substantiating the historic water use on their property.
Demonstrating early uses of water is critical, as surface water available throughout the Verde River watershed has been essentially over-allocated, even before statehood.
Innovation, determination and collaboration have long been recognized as key to water reclamation in Arizona.
From construction of water infrastructure to settlement of contentious legal challenges, SRP is recognized for our ability to bring together diverse and competing demands for the greater good. This means working together for the future of Verde water rights.
And that brings me back to my role as SRP’s manager of Water Rights as well as a board member of the Verde Valley Regional Economic Organization. SRP recognizes and values the historic water uses in the Verde Valley.
We are actively pursuing recordation of Historic Water Use Agreement/s (HWUA) to voluntarily recognize the historic use of water of many water users along the 18-mile stretch of the Verde Ditch.
Doing so now will eliminate future costly and time-consuming legal challenges. In the future, we plan to extend this opportunity to landowners along other ditch systems throughout the Verde Valley.
SRP has been pleased with some early success in connecting with a few Camp Verde landowners to enter into such agreements.
These landowners recognize the economic value of “water certainty.” It makes sense, and saves money. Approximately 85 percent of the acres irrigated from the Verde Ditch may qualify to establish an HWUA, and SRP will soon issue invitations to additional eligible participants.
SRP maintains many historical records (including maps, photography and surveys) used to ascertain areas of historic water use in the Verde Valley.
Our team of water rights experts at SRP includes Lucas Shaw, who devotes a great deal of his time to clarifying historical water use in the Verde Valley.
As SRP continues to advance Historic Water Use Agreements in the Verde River watershed, Shaw will be working closely with eligible landowners who reach out to SRP.
For more information and FAQs, visit http://www.watershedconnection.com/projects/verde-ditch.aspx.
Greg Kornrumph is manager of Water Rights at Salt River Project.
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