UNIDOS HACEMOS FUERZA
Randy Heiss, Chairman
P.O. Box 763
Patagonia, Arizona 85624
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DECEMBER 7, 2001
CITIZENS OF TINY ARIZONA TOWN INVOKE POWER OF INITIATIVE IN STRUGGLE WITH TAX EXEMPT CORPORATE GIANT TO RETAIN THEIR WATER RIGHTS
PATAGONIA, AZ - - In an effort that unified the long-time residents of this southern Arizona border town, a newly formed citizen's group has sought to limit the Town Council's authority on water rights matters. Unidos Hacemos Fuerza received certification today from the office of the Santa Cruz County Recorder that the first initiative measure in the town's history is virtually assured to be placed on the March 12, 2002 election ballot.
The initiative measure comes as a reaction to the Town Council's likely approval of a water rights agreement with the Arizona chapter of The Nature Conservancy. The proposed agreement would limit Patagonia's water usage until the year 3000 as well as pave the way for approval of the Conservancy's in-stream flow water rights application on Sonoita Creek. With less than 30 hours to gather signatures before the deadline for submission, organizers were able to garner more than 4 times the necessary signatures to place the matter before the voters.
The initiative measure will seek voter approval of a town ordinance requiring that before entering into any agreement or obligation affecting town water rights, certain conditions be met. Those conditions will require that public hearings be held, that the council approve such agreement or obligation by unanimous vote, and that they make findings of fact that the agreement or obligation is in the best interests of the town, considering specified factors.
Under an agreement currently proposed for Council approval, one negotiated behind closed doors by the town's former mayor, The Nature Conservancy would be granted the rights to more water than is available in the Sonoita Creek on a regular basis. The Conservancy seeks to replace 40 years of streamflow data collected by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) with a much smaller body of data collected over a few years by its own employees. In its application to the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) for in-stream flow water rights, the Conservancy claims that minimum streamflows ranging from 265 to 465 acre feet per month are necessary to sustain the endangered Gila topminnow living in the creek. According to the USGS data the minimum streamflows in the Sonoita Creek range from 0 to 113 acre feet per month.
During a period of drought this spring, a federal judge ruled that the Endangered Species Act gave an endangered fish in the Klamath River, in Oregon, highest priority over the irrigation rights to surface water of the Klamath Basin farmers, rights they have held since 1907 through a contract with the United States Bureau of Reclamation. Because the Conservancy's application to ADWR overstates the amount of streamflow regularly available in the Sonoita Creek, the citizens of the town fear that if drought conditions were to reduce flows in the creek, their municipal water rights could easily suffer a similar fate in federal court if suit were filed against the town by the Conservancy or other non-governmental organizations.
In addition to the proposed ordinance, the people of the town filed an official Statement of Protest to ADWR against the Conservancy's application on November 13, 2001. Copies of the proposed agreement, the ordinance and the statement of protest are available from Unidos Hacemos Fuerza.