From The Arizona Star (Tony Davis):
Two former Arizona water directors told the State Auditor General’s Office last year that the agency that runs the Central Arizona Project exceeded its authority under state law.
The former directors, Rita Maguire and Herb Guenther, said recently that they told state auditors the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) legally overstepped its bounds.
The district did so, they said, by negotiating two rounds of water-storage deals with Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD) and a Nevada water agency in the 1990s and a third deal with the Southern California district in 2015.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) wasn’t informed of these deals until they had either been approved or until negotiations were far along, Maguire told the Star, adding that she’s concerned about this deal setting a precedent for future Colorado River users to ink similar deals on their own.
“It’s the state of Arizona’s entitlement to Colorado River Water. The CAWCD is a delivery agent, delivering the water on behalf of their customers,” Maguire said. “Their customers are only in three counties. If they can do that, what is to prevent other users from doing the same?”
Along the Colorado River in Arizona, plenty of parties have the same or even more senior rights to river water as the CAP does, said Maguire. They include the cities of Kingman and Yuma and the Yuma irrigation districts, among others.
“If they acted like CAWCD cutting deals with the Metropolitan Water District, that has ramifications that could affect the state,” she said. “That’s why it’s important that the state has oversight authority, to make sure everybody’s interests are attended to.”
Current ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke also raised concerns to auditors about what he termed a questionable action: that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s general manager disclosed confidential information from a district board executive session. Under state open meetings law, all information discussed in executive sessions must remain confidential, with limited exceptions.
The auditors didn’t agree with any of the concerns. The audit concluded in December that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District is generally following the law and other established procedures for how it spends money and manages the $4 billion CAP water project.
A CAWCD spokeswoman, Crystal Thompson, said the district properly coordinated its efforts on the 1990s deal with the state water department. The 2015 deal was never consummated, but the district fiercely defended its legality last year when it became publicly known.
This dispute is now being addressed in new legislation.
A bill introduced recently by state Sen. Gail Griffin, a Sierra Vista Republican, would require legislative approval of any transfer of Arizona water out of state.
It would also require ADWR and the three-county CAP water district to notify each other if they’re involved in any Colorado River water negotiations, including interstate agreements or agreements with the U.S. government.
Two weeks ago, the Star reported that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had told state auditors the CAP water district has illegally diverted Colorado River water that should have gone to Indian tribes to a related agency that recharges water into the aquifer for new development.