Pursuant to A.R.S § 45-107, anybody attempting to transfer Colorado River entitlements is required to cooperate with, confer with, and obtain the advice of the Director of the Department of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. On April 2, 2017, the Town of Quartzsite (“Quartzsite”) and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (“CAWCD”), what many people broadly refer to as the Central Arizona Project or “CAP,” submitted a request for consultation to the Arizona Department of Water Resources (“ADWR”) with respect to the proposed 50+ year lease/transfer by Quartzsite of its 1,070 af of Fourth Priority Colorado River water entitlement to CAWCD. The lease/transfer, if approved, would allow CAWCD to transfer the on-river entitlement away from rural Arizona for use in central Arizona. Quartzsite and CAWCD requested that ADWR recommend the approval of the lease to the United States Bureau of Reclamation (“BoR”).
ADWR’s role is critical, as the Colorado River is, in most cases, the only dependable supply of water for communities along the River. BoR still has the ultimate discretion with respect to approving the lease, but it is unlikely that BoR would disregard ADWR’s recommendation, given the long-standing history of deference BoR has given to Arizona with respect to how Colorado River water entitlements should be administered in Arizona.
Thereafter, pursuant to the Colorado River Transfer Policy, there was a public comment process. During the public comment process, Sheryl Sweeney and Sam Lofland, on behalf of the Mohave County Water Authority, submitted comments requesting that ADWR recommend that BoR deny the lease. After ADWR reviewed the lease/transfer and comments submitted on the same, ADWR ultimately upheld its long-standing position that Colorado River supplies reserved to water users along the River should stay on the River and not be transferred to central Arizona. In doing so, it recommended that BoR deny the lease/transfer requested and contemplated by Quartzsite and CAWCD. ADWR sent its recommendation to BoR on May 24, 2018.
In recommending that BoR not approve the lease/transfer, ADWR referenced Mohave County Water Authority’s comments and concerns. By its recommendation, ADWR appears to have agreed with Mohave County Water Authority’s position by basing its recommendation largely on the fact that, historically, Quartzsite has never used its entitlement and Quartzsite’s contract with BoR limits use within the boundaries of Quartzsite’s service area, whereas the lease/transfer was specifically designed to remove water from on the River to central Arizona.
This is a major victory for the communities on the mainstem of the Colorado River. In a day and age, and state, where regulatory bodies are scrutinized, it is refreshing and should be celebrated that ADWR decided to try to protect and preserve a water supply for future generations on the River.