Colorado River

The Colorado River is shown flowing through Utah.

CASA GRANDE — A long-feared Colorado River water reduction for Pinal County farmers is close to becoming a reality.

With continuing drought along the Colorado River Basin, the Central Arizona Project and Arizona Department of Arizona Water Resources issued a joint statement Friday morning on the impact of anticipated shortages.

A shortage declaration on the Colorado River would result in a major cut to Arizona’s share of that water.

“These reductions are painful, but we are prepared,” the statement reads. “As we face the prospect of a hotter and drier future, we are confident that with our long history of successful collaboration among our diverse stakeholders — agriculture, tribes, cities, environment and industry, we will continue to find innovative and effective solutions to sustain Arizona’s Colorado River supply.”

In 2019, the seven states in the basin, as well as Mexico, developed a Drought Contingency Plan to last until 2026. The plan was designed to mitigate impacts of water reductions and help central Arizona agriculture, the sector most likely to be impacted by shortages.

Unless something changes, Arizona will be expected to reduce its use of Colorado River water by 512,000 acre-feet in 2022 as the plans goes from “Tier Zero” to “Tier I” status. Water supplies for cities and tribes are not expected to be affected.

According to Pinal County Supervisors Chairman Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, farmers in the county are very aware of potential changes to CAP water allocations, and irrigation districts have begun drilling more wells for groundwater. According to Miller, it isn’t yet clear how regional farmers will ultimately adapt.

“Will there be less crops grown? Probably,” Miller said. “Whatever happens in the future, there’s constantly new technology or improvements in drought resistant crops. We have very efficient farmers here in Arizona.”

Local farmer Nancy Caywood, who owns Caywood Farms in Casa Grande, painted a picture that was more grave.

“All farmers in the area should be very concerned about their water allotment being reduced,” Caywood said. “You have to pick and choose your crops carefully when there’s no runoff. I don’t think people coming in realize how important agriculture is to this area, and to our livelihood.”

Currently, Caywood says her farm isn’t receiving any new water from the San Carlos Irrigation District. They are currently growing alfalfa and then offsetting losses with a corn crop on another plot in Coolidge.

“What is going to happen to farms if they end up going bankrupt?”Caywood said. “It’s a bad situation all over. I’m not seeing selling our land, turning acres of beautiful farmland into solar energy or homes, as a good solution either.”

In addition to the financial cost of drilling new wells, Miller said that farmers will need to figure out the economic viability of growing new or different crops, should that become the best option.

Pinal County ranks first in the state in cotton, barley and livestock production. A 2019 study from the University of Arizona calculated that agriculture within Pinal County generates $2.3 billion. Overall, agriculture in Arizona is a $23 billion industry.

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