Prioritizing water for people over agriculture in Arizona

Central Arizona Project
Central Arizona Project

As the Southwest drought continues, water increasingly will be diverted from agriculture to cities, reducing the amount of land used for crops. This will lead to increases in the price of food and competition between cities and agriculture for water, as is starting to happen in Arizona now.

We are not suggesting farmers should use as much water as they wish; they must be given incentives to adopt water-saving strategies. Philanthropist Howard Buffett, who farms in Cochise County, recently said, “I don’t believe there should be a single acre of flood irrigation (for row crops) in Arizona. If we fully adopt drip and center pivot systems, it is realistic for Arizona farmers to cut their water use in half.”

59 percent of Arizonans surveyed strongly support reserving Arizona’s water for local food production, while 33 percent felt it somewhat important to consider local food production in the future allocations of Arizona’s water supplies.

Further complicating this is the thicket of arcane water law governing who gets what and when. Arizona cities have junior water rights to California Imperial Valley farmers. However it is inconceivable water would be shut off to Arizona cities while CA Big Ag got its full allotment. If things really got dire, water law would simply be ignored.

‘Tucson and other Arizona cities have made huge advancement in water management. Tucson has made a 90% reduction in groundwater pumping since 1994 even as its population has increased.

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