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Our View: Talking about water isn’t enough — State needs to take action

April 14, 2018 GMT

Water managers in Phoenix have gotten accustomed to getting what they want, so the push-back they’ve received from Mohave County over a planned transfer of Colorado River water rights has thrown them for a loop. Without a doubt, local opposition is why the proposed sale of land in the Mohave Valley area to the Central Arizona Project was extended through June. For its part, CAP says it needs more time. The water provider’s representatives need time to further negotiate the terms of the land fallowing program that’s at the heart of the proposal to buy 2,200 acres of land with about 14,000 acre feet of water rights.

The official line is that the deal is complicated and will require more time than expected to dot all the Is and cross the Ts, but it’s clear that loud voices from Mohave County — along with the threat of a lawsuit by Mohave County supervisors — has made an impact.

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Whatever happens in Mohave Valley, it’ll hardly be the last time we talk about losing water rights in Mohave County. There’s no law that protects rural water sources from being tapped by whoever wants to suck all the water out. Considering Phoenix is the seventh fastest-growing metropolitan area in the country, CAP will surely come calling again as long as water remains a commodity that can be sold off to the highest bidder.

All of this discussion comes as Arizona, along with the rest of the southwest, is predicted to have another dry year. The state is in its 21st year of a long-term drought, according to the Arizona State Climate Office, which recently pointed out that the state’s reservoirs are about half full and “supplying an ever-increasing population.”

There are limits to growth. Lake Havasu City’s has a population cap of about 93,000 people, a figure based mostly on water supplies. If local water rights are allowed to be influenced by municipalities and organizations located hundreds of miles away, it can impact our own plans for smart and sustainable growth.

Arizona needs to proceed carefully and put an end to the water free-for-all that seems to be happening around the state — particularly along the lower Colorado River.

Arizona needs legislation that protects water in its rural areas — above ground and below it — much like the state’s five “active management areas” are regulated against overuse. Until that happens, there’s no reason to think market forces won’t continue to send water out of Mohave County and into the taps of well-heeled and better-organized communities.

—Today’s News-Herald