Last year, 15 acres of Mohave Valley farmland proved crucial in the county’s efforts to prevent Colorado River water from being diverted to Central Arizona. Now county officials will have two years to find a new caretaker for the land to maintain the county’s standing in future water discussions.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors purchased the land in 2018 for about $250,000 in an effort to secure standing in ongoing discussions between the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District and agricultural interests. It was a move that Mohave County Manager Mike Hendrix said was intended to prevent 4.5 billions of gallons of Colorado River water from leaving Mohave County. Until now, the land was tended by Wakimoto Farms under a lease with the county. Wakimoto Farms owner Victor Wakimoto announced last month that he will not renew his lease on the land next year.

Mohave County Supervisor Ron Gould encouraged Mohave County departments to investigate possible other agricultural uses for the county’s agricultural land.

“If we don’t use the water, we’re going to lose our water allotment,” Gould said at the meeting. “Is it possible to create a prisoner work farm for Mohave County? The land could be used to grow food for the prison, or if there’s enough food, it could even be used for the senior center as well.”

The board took no action on what to do with its agricultural land, but possibilities including that of an inmate work-release program to farm the land will be discussed at a future Board of Supervisors meeting.

Last month, Wakimoto said his choice not to renew his lease was due to concerns about water conservation. According to Mohave County Supervisor Gary Watson, however, the Irrigation and Drainage District may have exacerbated Wakimoto Farms’ water needs.

“Mister Wakimoto tried to procure a three-year supply of water from the MVIDD,” Watson said at the Board of Supervisors’ Oct. 7 meeting. “The MVIDD board authorized only one year of water for his farm. Alfalfa only allows for a three-year commitment of water … that’s why he withdrew from the lease.”

After more than two decades of drought throughout Western Arizona and a diminishing waterline at Lake Mead, Mohave County officials have in recent years maintained a policy protective of the county’s water supply. Under Arizona law, however, the county can only maintain its standing if the land retains its agricultural purpose.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors opposed a 2017 attempt by the MVIDD to sell 2,225 acres of land and 13,939 acre-feet of Colorado River to the Central Arizona Project for $34 million, Hendrix said at Monday’s meeting.

The board also opposed a lease of 1,000 acre-feet of water to Quartzsite in 2017 and 2018, and an MVIDD policy allowing 10,000 acre-feet of water to be transferred to Central Arizona.

Although though the county hasn’t been entirely successful, according to Hendrix, the county has secured far more of its water rights than it may have without it’s standing among MVIDD stakeholders.

Wakimoto’s lease over the land will expire Dec. 31, and Mohave County will have two years to find a new agricultural purpose and someone to tend the land to maintain the county’s voting power in decisions by the MVIDD.

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