Friday, June 14

Are Arizona’s Farmers Prepared for a Water Shortage?

At an event on Tuesday, June 9, Gov. Doug Ducey offered praise for Arizona’s past water planning and conservation efforts while also urging the importance of addressing water levels in Lake Mead, which continue to drop.

According to the Arizona Daily Star, Ducey also reinforced the need for federally-financed water saving efforts to help avoid over-tapping the Colorado River.

“Uncertainty and vulnerability surrounding our water supply remain,” Ducey explanied. “Despite the uncertainties, vulnerabilities and challenges we face, Arizona does not face an immediate crisis. And we won’t, as long as we follow the examples of those before us: good planning, good management and good policy.”

But are Arizona’s farms — 97% of which are family-owned and operated — ready to cut down on their water usage? Currently, irrigated agriculture accounts for approximately 70% of Arizona’s water use, but experts say there’s a 54% chance that water shortages will hit the Colorado River by as soon as 2017. And as Lake Mead’s levels steadily dropping as well, water tensions are rising. It might be prudent to increase your water intake when you’re trying to lose weight, but farming is a different matter entirely.

Water experts are advising cities to buy up water rights from farms that rely on river water, which would require farms to either grow their crops more efficiently or to let crops go fallow entirely.

“We’re not going to let Denver, Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix and San Diego go dry so we can continue to grow alfalfa in Grand Junction and cotton in El Centro,” Chris Avery, Tucson Water’s chief counsel, said in a recent interview. “But I don’t think that a larger scale ag-to-urban transfer is on the immediate horizon.”

Dan Thelander, a farmer who grows alfalfa, wheat and cotton on his 5,000-acre farm near Maricopa, is already facing growing water insecurity. His irrigation district has so far given up 20% of its Central Arizona Project (CAP) water in an effort to prevent Lake Mead from drying up, reports the Grand Canyon News.

If the Colorado River faces a shortage, he and other Arizona farmers will be faced with a dire choice: to farm their crops using less water — which often requires investments in costly irrigation technologies — or to farm a smaller portion of their land each year.

“It’s a big concern because this is something we can do very little to control,” Thelander said. “It’s going to be a very painful cut back when we start losing our water, but we’ll do what we can to survive and that’s all you can do.”

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