Arizona agriculture creates framework to protect water supply


About 60 leaders from Arizona’s diverse farming industry huddled in September for the Arizona Agriculture Water Summit. The goal was to identify agricultural water issues across the Grand Canyon State and how the food and fiber industries should work together to protect its vital and threatened water supply.

Farmers, ranchers, and leaders representing various agricultural organizations in Arizona divided into groups to learn about water issues across commodity areas and regions in the state.

When the two-day meeting concluded, the group had developed an early framework to help agriculture move forward to help secure its future water needs and help serve as an anchor for water to support Arizona’s $17.2 billion agricultural industry.

At the end of the breakouts, each group developed its top list of ideas, needs, and values on water.

“We are not leaving this water summit with a mandate on water solutions,” said AnnaMarie Knorr, a conference leader and the manager of Arizona government affairs for Western Growers. “We all belong to different organizations and many of these issues should (first) be vetted through those entities.”

Other active summit participants included irrigation district managers and chemical company reps, plus state lawmakers.

Across Arizona, water is likely the top burner issue facing Arizona agriculture, as farming and ranching communities deal with reduced water supplies tied to the 15th consecutive year of drought in the state.

In addition, agriculture’s eyes are sharply focused on the water mark level at Lake Mead in northeastern Arizona. When (not if) the water level drops below 1,075 feet deep at the lake, the U.S. government will likely authorize a shortage call on the Colorado River which would trigger reductions in surface water deliveries from the mighty Colorado.

When this occurs – likely in the next several years, the State of Arizona would face the largest surface water cutbacks among the lower basin states. 100 percent of the cuts would be in water deliveries from the Central Arizona Project to central Arizona agriculture.

Back to the summit, a summary of the green group’s discussion included: changes should be implemented to remove Arizona agriculture as the first industry to face surface water cuts; urban areas should develop their own ‘new water’ to support urban growth; and overgrown forests on federal lands in Arizona should be thinned to reduce wildfires and provide water supplies elsewhere.

The yellow group supported maintaining Arizona agriculture’s current water supply; implementing groundwater flexibility for farmers; incentivizing drip and sprinkler systems to further conserve water; creating new water storage (dams); salt cedar tree removal; and the use of cloud seeding.

The yellow group took a hardline stance in opposition to water rights transfers from basin to basin. It is currently against the law to transfer water rights in Arizona. They said desalinization plants are one way to generate new water. Desal companies will enter come on the market when it makes financial sense.

The last group – blue – supported water augmentation through new storage facilities and echoed the benefits of forest thinning. They stressed the need for more rural legislators, to not only support agriculture in the Arizona Legislature but also share agriculture’s viewpoints with non-farm lawmakers.

The blue group asked for the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) to support agriculture’s water needs.

At the summit was ADA director Mark Killian who chimed in saying, “The Department would be willing to facilitate a water group and take the ideas from the summit and help shepherd them to the right people.”

The director added, “People need to understand what would happen if agriculture went away.”

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