The La Paz County Board of Supervisors have approved a resolution opposing the recommendation of the Arizona Department of Water Resources that a transfer of fourth-priority Colorado River water rights to a town in metro Phoenix be approved.
ADWR Director Thomas Buschatzke, recommended Sept. 4 the U.S. Department of the Interior approve a transfer of water from GSC Farms in Cibola to the Town of Queen Creek.
The Supervisors’ resolution was approved at their Sept. 21 meeting.
La Paz County District 3 Supervisor Holly Irwin said at the Sept. 8 County Supervisors’ meeting she was disappointed with Buschatzke’s recommendation. Irwin has been an opponent of water transfers out of La Paz County. She said the county needs that water for their future development.
Buschatzke recommended the Bureau of Reclamation approve 1,078.01 acre feet per year from GSC to the Town of Queen Creek. GSC’s current entitlement is 2,083.01 acre feet per year. He said the remainder of the entitlement should be used for future development on the land owned by GSC.
GSC currently use the water to irrigate 485 acres. They want to retire that land from agricultural use. Queen Creek wants to use that water for municipal services. The town is part of the Phoenix metropolitan area and is growing rapidly.
Opponents of the transfer said Colorado River communities have a limited supply of water, and they need that water for their own survival and growth. They said the river water should be used for their own growth and not for that of Maricopa and Pima Counties. They added this would set a precedent that could lead to other metropolitan areas seeking Colorado River water.
Proponents of the transfer said water transfers have been common in the history of the West. They said it was not a lot of water, and added that not much more water could be transferred from the Colorado River as the Central Arizona Project canal is already at capacity. They said Queen Creek will use this water for development, and the entire state will benefit from the additional tax revenue that development will generate.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation website, fourth-priority water rights are established by contracts or other arrangements between Reclamation and water users in the State of Arizona. These contracts need to have been entered into after Sept. 30, 1968. The water can be used on federal, state or privately owned lands. The total quantity to be contracted is not to exceed 164,652 acre-feet per year. A contract from December 1972 between the United States and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District allows for water to be transferred via the Central Arizona Project canal.
In his letter to Bernhardt, Buschatzke said fourth priority water users diverted an average of 90,448 acre feet per year from 2010 to 2019. He noted this is less than the 151,037 acre feet per year of fourth priority water currently contracted on the mainstem of the Colorado River.
“Even is GSC’s full diversionary contract volume were transferred to central Arizona, a substantial volume of fourth priority water would remain available to support future growth in mainstem communities,” Buschatzke said.
Buschatzke said it was not the role of the ADWR to determine what the best use for the water would be. He said their role was to make a recommendation based on the laws and policies of the State of Arizona.
The U.S. Department of the Interior will make the final decision on the transfer. Reclamation is a bureau within the Interior Department.