Judge puts brakes on water transfer from rural La Paz County to City of Queen Creek

A judge has put the brakes on a transfer of water from a farm along the Colorado River in rural La Paz County to the city of Queen Creek near Phoenix, a win for a coalition of western Arizona counties who came together to fight the move.

In 2018, GSC Farm near Cibola agreed to sell and transfer its entitlement to around 2913 acre-feet of Colorado River water every year to the City of Queen Creek, a growing urban area near Phoenix, for around $21 million. Practically, this would entail diverting the water further upstream, at the Mark Wilmer Pumping Plant north of Parker, through the Central Arizona Project canal system. GSC Farm and Queen Creek then filed for approval of the transfer from the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

Reclamation prepared a Finding of No Significant Impact, which allows the transfer to proceed on the basis that it would “not have a significant effect on the human environment.”

Mohave County, Yuma County and La Paz County, along with the City of Yuma, took legal actions which disagree with Reclamation, challenging the “administrative record” upon which Reclamation made its finding, and essentially taking issue with the idea that there would be no environmental impacts resulting from the transfer. GSC Farms responded, saying among other things that the counties had no standing to get involved.

The federal court’s decision this week is a mixed bag in its details, but the outcome is a win for the counties. The judge, Michael T. Liburdi of the U.S. District of Arizona, rejected the points made by Mohave and La Paz Counties which claim that their residents will be affected by the water transfer, but agreed with Yuma County’s argument that the transfer will affect the quality and chemistry of their water by reducing the flow downstream. The fact that creating a precedent of transferring water has the potential to encourage the growth of cities like Queen Creek was also a factor, and that therefore Reclamation has a duty to conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement.

In his ruling, the judge wrote:

“Plaintiffs have raised at least two substantial questions that the Water Transfer may have a significant effect on the environment. First, Plaintiffs show that the Water Transfer may establish a precedent for future water transfers with significant effects. … Second, Plaintiffs show that the Water Transfer may have a cumulatively significant impact on the growth of Queen Creek that may cause significant effects. … Reclamation’s determination that it did not need to conduct a EIS was arbitrary and capricious.”

The limited availability of Colorado River water in a mega-drought has led many water users, such as the city of Queen Creek, in the state of Arizona to look at sources of water they can secure for the future in the southwest. But this week’s decision seems to make it clear that not all such efforts will be an easy path, as those with vested interests like the river communities fight for their own future, in which there are few easy answers.

5 comments

  1. If you take one drop of water, and add another drop of water to it, then there is still one drop of water.

  2. Write a story about this!

  3. Roxanne Sullivan Hello, How are you doing, Do you still remember me kindly send me a direct message to my page Ok

  4. Beverly L Bonney Hello, How are you doing, Do you still remember me kindly send me a direct message to my page Ok

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *