Senior Couple Threatened by SRP …Will you be next?

Urbain Beck, for CAMP VERDE, ARIZONA (October 2, 2007) - Ask Clive Jordan about his property in Camp Verde, and chances are, he’ll crank up his converted ’52 Jeep and take you on a tour. It takes about three turns until the Jeep sputters to life, but soon you’re off on a journey through one of the Verde Valley’s most beautiful properties. Along the way, you’ll see the Verde River, some pristine high desert terrain, and even a few deer. Clive doesn’t say much about these features. Instead, he makes frequent stops at deep holes dug all over the property by a hydrologist he’s been forced to hire. The holes are supposed to determine various hydrogeologic features along the Verde River. Although he has been fighting for his life due to cancer, Clive and his wife of over 50 years, Noel Burgbacher Jordan, may be facing the ultimate fight of their lifetimes.
Clive Jordan stands by a well pump that SRP claims is being used illegally.

Four years ago, Salt River Project, which is the nation’s third largest utility company, sued the Jordans and several other small property owners in the Camp Verde area in order to shut down their water wells, which SRP claims are pumping subflow. The ever-thirsty City of Phoenix joined in SRP’s complaint. Not only were the Jordans faced with a lawsuit, but they were publicly humiliated in press releases that essentially labeled them as thieves for stealing water out of the Verde River. The lawsuit is still in process.


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Back in 1990, the Jordans inherited their 175 acre farm about seven miles downstream of Camp Verde. Known as “Rancho Tres Brisas,” the property was homesteaded in 1870 and has historic water rights to the Verde River. Only a small number of acres are irrigated with a combination of the historic river water rights and groundwater wells. This water goes to the heart of Tres Brisas, which includes an irrigation pond that’s also used as a swimming hole, a couple dozen horses and cattle, and the Jordans’ home and outbuildings. The rest of the land remains in its natural condition. Rancho Tres Brisas is a frequent destination for thousands of Boy Scouts, friends and other groups who like to swim in the irrigation pond and camp along the banks of the Verde River, which meanders through the property.

About 30 percent of the water from the Verde River goes to SRP users in the Phoenix area.
On the weekend of August 18, 2007, Boy Scout Troop 124 from Phoenix’ St. Andrews Lutheran Church set up camp at the Jordans’.

This river water -- or in water law parlance, “surface water” -- is water that the courts have determined

belongs to SRP. Anyone familiar with Arizona’s “first in time, first in right” surface water law does not deny that SRP has a claim to Verde River water. What people do contest is SRP’s assertion that certain groundwater wells are sucking up the utility company’s surface water because they are pumping subflow. In simplistic terms, “subflow” refers to water that’s part of the river or stream but runs beneath the earth’s surface.

SRP estimates that more than 20,000 small wells exist in the Verde Valley. However, it has targeted just a handful of those wells in “test cases” before the Maricopa

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County Superior Court in an effort to show that the wells are illegally taking SRP’s river water because they are pumping subflow. These test cases have created a tremendous financial and emotional burden on the Jordans .

Shown is a partially-completed pipeline that will conserve water. Due to litigation costs, the project has been placed on hold.

Clive and Noel Jordan are no strangers to water issues in Arizona. According to Clive, they have had to deal with various water attorneys for the past 10 years or so. But the latest slam from SRP is taking its toll. That’s because there’s no objective standard for what exactly constitutes “subflow” in the Verde Valley. In fact, SRP’s hydrology expert has told the Court that NBJ Ranch is “probably” pumping subflow.

Although they divert water directly from the Verde River pursuant to their 1870 rights, the Jordans also pump what they believe to be groundwater for irrigation, thus preventing waste and illegal use of the river water. For many years, the river water was transported to the irrigated fields by irrigation ditches built in the 1800s and early 1900s. This water is supplemented by a deep well system installed by the Jordans’ predecessors in the 1960s and 70s. Since moving to Rancho Tres Brisas in 1990, the Jordans have spent thousands of dollars renovating the system with underground pipelines so that water is conserved and not lost to spillage and evaporation. The renovations are not complete. “We’re having to spend our money battling SRP instead of improving the system so it conserves water,” Mr. Jordan mused. “We can live

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comfortably, but when it comes to this sort of thing, SRP has much deeper pockets than we do to spend in court. The utility’s resources are essentially unlimited compared with ours.”

“I mentally budgeted about $100,000 to deal with the SRP lawsuit,” Clive admitted. “It’s turning into a lot more than that.” The timing of the lawsuit could not have been worse. In mid-April, he was hospitalized for Hodgkins lymphoma. After a bout in intensive care followed by a over a month in hospitals and rehab homes, Jordan is still in recovery, having to fight for both his health and his water.

If the Jordans are forced to shut down their wells, their property value may drop. Their Boy Scout retreat may be shut down. But there are other implications that extend far beyond Rancho Tres Brisas.

Well owners who live by any river or stream in the state should be concerned about the litigation that the Jordans and several other parties in the Verde Valley are facing. Approximately 30 years ago, the state legislature enacted statutes that govern the adjudication of water rights. There is a set procedure that involves preparation of watershed reports by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and which addresses the due process rights of water users. In SRP’s test cases, ADWR’s role in mapping the subflow zone and developing testing procedures for the Verde River watershed is being undermined. Normally, when ADWR prepares its impartial reports, all parties in the adjudication have an opportunity to challenge ADWR’s findings because the burden of proving that groundwater is in fact subflow lies with the state.

The shotgun approach that SRP is engaging in, by claiming that people are “probably” using water illegally, may result in an Wild West courtroom atmosphere where anyone can sue anyone for “probably” using water that does not belong to them. This circumvents the statutory adjudication process and has the potential to create a tremendous financial burden on water users in the form of expensive litigation. The “burden of proof” will shift to each water user, who will be presumed “guilty” for using

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water illegally and who will have to hire lawyers and hydrologists to prove that his or her well is in fact pumping groundwater and not subflow.

With soaring growth in both the Phoenix area and the Verde Valley, water supply for the population, balanced with preserving natural habitat, is turning into a heated political issue. Many fear that unless water pumping is regulated, developers will deplete the subflow that supports the Verde River. These fears are based on projected future water uses, however. The defendants in SRP’s “test cases” are not developers. They are land owners who have been using their wells without challenge for decades.

“Unless we win, I don’t think SRP will stop with us,” Clive mused as he walked along the incomplete pipeline. “There are people all up and down the Verde who are using well water for their orchards and yards. Are they going to be able to stand up to SRP, or will they fold because of the litigation expenses?”

Will this pastural setting become a thing of the past in the Verde Valley?.

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