Water policy experts discuss the controversy of the Colorado River delivering water to different parts of the state as excess water dwindles.
“Water is going to be one of the most valuable and sought-after natural resources. It’s becoming so,” says Sarah Porter, Director of Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute Kyl Center for Water Policy. “So they’re buying up water rights in hopes of making a profit. In this case, the companies, the speculators bought up farming lands in Mojave County, and those lands have water rights attached to them. They see selling some of the water that’s connected with that land and reap a profit.”
Jim Holway, vice chair of the Central Arizona Project Board says individuals are not allowed to subdivide land unless they can prove a reliable supply. This is due to the short water supply rules made in 1995. Around that same time, the legislature approved a groundwater replenishment district. The law states that if there was enough groundwater, the people who lived on the land can pump the water and join the district. The district would find a renewable source of water to replenish the area.
Porter says the assumption was there would be excess water for the replenishment district to rely on. However, central Arizona’s rapid growth coupled with an extended drought resulted in the water supply running low a decade earlier than predicted.
After speaking with community leaders from Mojave and Yuma counties – the two counties most affected by the water shortage – Porter discovered that while Yuma County would like to keep the lands that are already in production to stay in production, Mojave County was more concerned about the taxes imposed on unused lands.
“The big question is, ‘what is the future of agriculture?'” Holway says. “I’m a big advocate for local agriculture… What does Arizona want to be 50 years from now?”
Porter predicts that the state is heading to a point where it will have to look at extreme measures like an ocean desalt program or something similar that will bring in a new supply of water.