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Farm under scrutiny in ongoing Mohave County water debate

January 3, 2019

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors will soon decide whether to approve the renewal of a land lease held by Mohave Valley’s Wakimoto Farms. The deal could affect Mohave County’s continued say in local water rights.

The Mohave County Board of Supervisors took drastic measures to defend county water rights last year when it voted to purchase a $250,000 stretch of agricultural land. Those 15 acres of land made Mohave County a stakeholder in discussions about water transfers by the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District. Wakimoto Farms has leased the land for more than three decades, but county officials discovered in November that state law requires the property be assessed before the county can renew Wakimoto Farms’ lease.

Mohave County supervisors will also explore the history of the lease itself at the board’s upcoming Monday meeting. The lease is held by 69-year-old Victor Wakimoto, the former brother-in-law of former Supervisor Lois Wakimoto.

Victor Wakimoto has leased the property for $60 per acre since 2011. After Mohave County purchased the land, however, Arizona law required the county to have the land assessed, after which it would be leased for no less than 90 percent of its assessed value. With the renewal of the lease, Wakimoto’s lease will increase to $70 per acre, according to Mohave County Administrator Mike Hendrix.

Hendrix says that maintaining Wakimoto’s lease is an important part of conserving Mohave County’s water rights in the Mohave Valley area.

“We established our standing in the purchase of that property,” Hendrix said. “But only farmers could vote (in the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District). With the agreement, we had a stronger standing. It gives us more of a voice.”

Purchasing the property resulted in Mohave County entering into a consortium of land-owners with an interest in Mohave Valley water rights. Supervisors questioned whether Mohave County could legally do so, but according to Hendrix, the deal was reviewed and approved by the Mohave County Attorney’s Office.

But just because the county can do something doesn’t mean it should, according to Mohave County Supervisor Buster Johnson.

“I was against the purchase of this land to begin with,” Johnson said. “We were entering into an area where we didn’t belong. We ended up buying more water, but we were really just leasing it through this consortium. I wasn’t sure it was legal … it feels like we’ve gotten involved in something we shouldn’t have been involved in.”

According to the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, Mohave County’s ownership of the land and its accompanying water rights may be in dispute. Mohave County and other owners of adjacent farmland share a common well, from which Mohave County is allotted two acre-feet of water per year. Such an allotment, however, is not enough to grow alfalfa, according to MVIDD officials.

It’s a situation that needs to be corrected, even if that means one or more landowners receive less water, according to the minutes from MVIDD’s Dec. 10 meeting. The Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District plans to examine a history of the land’s water usage before they devise a plan for future water allocation on Mohave County’s farmland.

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