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Thursday, August 25, 2005


ARIZONA BRACES FOR WATER WAR WITH OTHER STATES: ARIZONA REPUBLIC 

The state has the funds in place in the event of a regional water war with neighboring states.

ARIZONA REPUBLIC: Arizona has created a legal defense fund to protect its Colorado River allocation in the event a simmering dispute among other states flares into a regional water war.

The state hopes to raise at least $1.5 million in the coming months to prepare for possible lawsuits, though officials admit costs could climb many times higher if the dispute spills into a courtroom.

At stake is Arizona's ability to grow. A worst-case loss in court could force the state to give up half of the water that flows through the Central Arizona Project Canal and leave it in reservoirs to benefit upstream users or satisfy a treaty with Mexico.

Most of that water is now reserved for cities in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties or set aside to settle claims with Indian tribes.

Representatives from all seven Colorado River states will meet today in San Diego to consider a plan that might solve some of the issues without legal action. The plan is aimed at wringing every possible drop from the river even if it means punching holes in clouds.

The states hope to submit their proposals to Interior Secretary Gale Norton next week as part of a larger effort to create a long-term drought plan for the Colorado. Drought and growth have pushed the river past its limits and renewed tensions among the states, whose bickering dates back decades.

Without a workable plan, "litigation is inevitable at some point," said Herb Guenther, director of the state Department of Water Resources. "We've been staring at it for a long time. But we're trying to avoid the head-on collision and see if we can't work together on these issues."

Guenther's agency ponied up the first $200,000 for the defense fund, and the state will ask boards governing the CAP and Salt River Project to contribute similar amounts. Guenther said a fund-raising committee will then seek donations from others with a stake in the river, including cities and home builders.

The state has also retained a lawyer who specializes in water to help with legal research and planning.

The decision to begin raising money for legal action pushes Arizona further into a battle that it had largely avoided in recent years, though the state is certainly no stranger to river wars. Arizona vs. California, a landmark case that helped define the way the Colorado is managed, grew out of Arizona's refusal to ratify the original river compact.

"The Colorado River is extremely important to the state of Arizona," said John Sullivan, associate general manager of SRP's water group and a member of the fund-raising committee. "When other states begin to make noises about threatening Arizona's supply, I think the whole state needs to get involved."

The threat stems from arguments over how the river and its tributaries are divided among users. In states along the upper river, which include Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, water taken from tributaries is counted against the states' shares.

Ariz. braces for water war

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