With more than 2,000 annual acre-feet of Colorado River water at stake, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors is opposing a water transfer that got a crucial OK from state government earlier this month.
The director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources has recommended that the U.S. Department of the Interior approve the transfer of water from La Paz County to the city of Queen Creek, which lies east of the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Those water rights currently belong to GSC Farms in Cibola – more than 200 miles west of Queen Creek. The farming company uses its 2,083 acre-foot allocation of Colorado River water to irrigate 485 acres of land in Cibola. But now GSC Farms plans to retire that land from agricultural use, and Queen Creek officials plan to use that water for municipal uses in their service area.
Queen Creek officials signed the agreement with GSC Farms in 2018, but the sale of water rights required both the approval of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Department of the Interior.
La Paz County Supervisors have also voice their disapproval for the transfer, and La Paz County Supervisors joined Mohave County officials and state legislators in opposing the transfer earlier this month at a public hearing on the matter at the Parker Public Library.
Opponents of the transfer said the transfer’s approval would create a precedent that could lead to other metropolitan areas seeking Colorado River water. Those in favor of the transfer said the amount being transferred was little, and Arizona would stand to gain from additional tax revenue that could be generated in the town of Queen Creek after the transfer is complete.
According to Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould, however, it’s an example of history repeating itself.
“Once upon a time, they had their water rights,” Gould said of the city of Queen Creek. “They sold those rights, and now they’ve developed houses they don’t have water for. Now it seems like they’re going back to the state to bail them out of the problem they caused for themselves in the first place.”
Gould expressed disappointment with state officials’ decision on Wednesday.
“We’re afraid it’s going to begin a trend of moving water from the river communities to Maricopa County. We want to see this water used for economic development. We want it to stay in the county, rather than being shipped to Phoenix.”
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Thomas Buschatzke issued his recommendation for the transfer to U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt earlier this week, proposing that about half of GSC’s water entitlement be approved for transfer to Queen Creek.
“Even if 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 in his letter.
According to Buschatzke, the agreement was not a re-allocation of uncontracted water, but a negotiated agreement between a contract-holder and a proposed recipient. He said it was not the role of the Arizona Department of Water Resources to determine the best use for that water, but to make its recommendation based on the laws and policies of the state of Arizona.
The Mohave County Board of Supervisors will vote in a special meeting Thursday on whether to approve a resolution formally opposing the agreement.
Parker Pioneer reporter John Gutekunst contributed to this story.