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Water everywhere, but not where it’s needed

Colorado River water flows through a canal that feeds farms operated by Tempe Farming Co., in Casa Grande, Ariz., Thursday, July 22, 2021. The Colorado River has been a go-to source of water for cities, tribes and farmers in the U.S. West for decades. But climate change, drought and increased demand are taking a toll. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is expected to declare the first-ever mandatory cuts from the river for 2022. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

You have probably heard before that “Whiskey’s for drinking and water is for fighting,” or that “there’s nothing drier than a speech on water,” or that “the subject of water is not sexy.”  Well, there is truth to all three and more, but in Arizona in 2022, the topic du jour every day is “water!”

Our current conditions in Arizona and the desert Southwest following two decades of drought are reminding us all of the fact that “Water is Life!” and the management of our water resources is critical to us all.  Choose your county and you will find a great example of a water matter being discussed and needing to be addressed.

Agriculture regularly takes a black eye for the 70% of Arizona water that is diverted to it, which is used wisely to produce food and fiber for you the consumer, the ultimate benefactor. At the same time, agricultural producers are in business operations, and they must derive a profit to stay solvent.

Water diverted to agriculture is always put back into the system and it is the goal of water professionals throughout the state and country to develop water policy that will benefit all consumers in feeding and clothing us, while providing food security and national security for the collective benefit of all Americans. At the same time, farmers and ranchers work hard at good stewardship of our natural resources and continually strive to protect our environment.

We, the Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona, made up of major water users and agribusinesses in Arizona, are heavily involved and track the water policy development process at the state, regional, and national levels. Accordingly, we are vigilant in monitoring water levels in Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and other reservoirs throughout the state.

With the low water elevations in reservoirs that we are experiencing due to the severity of 20-plus years of drought, we are dealing with a diminished ability to generate clean hydropower, which is a concern to millions of customers throughout the state. Water is used to generate huge amounts of electricity in this region, and it takes electricity to move water. Thus, in agriculture we are alert to a true food, water, and energy nexus.

In 2021, the council, working with a western-wide regional water infrastructure coalition, was able to lead the effort in Arizona to campaign for “water” infrastructure funding to be included in the federal bipartisan infrastructure bill that was recently signed into law. This was accomplished with the tremendous contributions and leadership provided by Arizona Sen Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema. This legislation provides sorely needed funding to address aging infrastructure and help bring all water infrastructure up to 21st century standards. It allows Arizona to stretch its limited water supplies further and more efficiently. We are extremely proud of that effort and are working tirelessly to see that the funds are spent wisely and directed to the appropriate projects with benefits realized sooner rather than later.

Agricultural practitioners should be commended for their wise stewardship of water, which is the most critical input in desert agriculture and certainly one if not their most expensive input costs.   Farmers and ranchers in Arizona address the need for locally grown food, their cropping systems serve to buffer the heat island effect of the large urban areas of the state, and agriculture provides a multiplier effect or numerous contributions to local urban and rural economies.

As they commonly say in the West, “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting,” will always be true. Speeches on water may be dry topics to some but all Arizonans are dependent on our water resources, and we are all dependent on agriculture.  Our collective thoughts are extremely important and discussions and debates on water-related issues are an important part of our civic and political arenas.  The simple fact remains “Water is Life!” and we wouldn’t be here without it.

Chris Udall is the executive director of the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona. 


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