In response to this article in the Mohave Valley Daily News, Arizona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Glenn Hamer submitted the following letter to the editor in an attempt to correct and clarify the facts surrounding The Bill Williams Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014.
The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry believes it is important to correct the record regarding The Bill Williams Water Rights Settlement Act of 2014, which was discussed in a recent article about the Mohave Republican Forum (“Water transfer hot topic at debate,” Aug. 11).
Statements regarding lost property tax revenue in Mohave and La Paz counties resulting from the transfer of Planet and Lincoln Ranch water rights and reportedly putting lands into the Hualapai tribal trust deserve correction and clarification.
Various state, federal and private parties who hold water rights in the Bill Williams Watershed entered into discussions to prevent a potential decades-long legal battle over water. The parties reached agreement in 2014 requiring an Act of Congress given the federal and tribal interests.
Through the settlement, a portion of the privately owned Planet Ranch lands and water rights were donated to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (AZGFC) to facilitate implementation of a habitat restoration program that helps Arizona protect its rights to the Colorado River, which is a tremendous economic benefit to the state and to its counties. Prior to the approval by Congress, the AZGFC agreed to compensate both Mohave and La Paz Counties for any future impact to property tax revenues by voluntarily paying the counties taxes on the donated portions of Planet Ranch. Therefore, the reported loss of tax revenue never occurred as taxes will be paid on the private portions of the Ranches and AZGFC will continue to pay taxes on the donated lands. Furthermore, the AZGFC opened the donated lands to public access for recreation, a significant new benefit to both counties
The August 11 article also reported that the settlement placed land into the Hualapai tribal trust, which is inaccurate. The settlement simply provides the Tribe the opportunity to purchase a limited number of lands in a competitive process if the land is ever put up for sale. There are no guarantees that the land will ever be sold to the Tribe, nor is there any promise that the land would be placed into the tribal trust.
Lastly, the settlement and the associated Act of Congress ensure that up to 30,000 acre feet of water in Mohave County claimed by private interests would not be used and would remain in the river systems. Without the settlement and Act of Congress, this water could have been used, but instead is left to the benefit of the Counties and riparian systems.
Settling longstanding water rights disputes are difficult and complicated, but doing so results in a secure economic environment for Arizona’s businesses and its citizens. The settlement and Act prevented litigation, resulted in no lost tax revenues to the counties, opened land for recreation, left water in the rivers, and helped to safeguard Arizona’s Colorado River rights.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry