As Lake Mead approaches dangerously low levels, locals are preparing for ways how to irrigate more efficiently and looking for alternative sources of water.
“We’re trying to get as efficient as we can with the water,” Dan Thelander, partner in the Tempe Farming Company, says. “The efficiency in our district is around 80 percent. Our farm has about one thousand acres of drip irrigation. We would like to have our whole farm in drip… It’s just so expensive, we don’t have the money to do that.”
Drip irrigation would raise the efficiency levels to 90 or 95 percent. Thelander says even if they had the money, they probably wouldn’t make the transition to drip. Farms in the central Phoenix area are facing cutbacks and the possibility of fallowing, the act of not cultivating plots of land to reduce water use. It wouldn’t be worth the risk.
Traditionally, the Tempe Farming Company receives have their water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) which is water that comes from the Colorado River. The other half comes from pumping ground water. If they are forced to use 100 percent ground water, the cost of pumping increases and it puts an unhealthy amount of stress on the supply of ground water.
If the water in Lake Mead reaches its critical level, the cut in water supply will fall to the lowest priority entity which is CAP, explains General Manager of Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation & Drainage District Brian Betcher. That will then affect the lowest priority users within CAP which is irrigated agriculture.
“I would like to think there is a proper balance that will allow a gradual decline in farming down here but keep it profitable to balance the needs of the state,” Betcher says. “I’m a firm believe that every state should have a significant component of farm ground to provide direct supplies of food and fibers to people in the state.”
Arnott Duncan, CEO of Duncan Family Farms, says it’s only a matter of time when water is going o be all about a legislative process of policy. He says that’s why farmers need to start saving now. It won’t help to wait until the declaration of a water shortage is made.
TED SIMONS-FARMERS IN CENTRAL ARIZONA ARE TAKING PRECAUTIONS IN PREPARATION FOR A LIKELY WATER SHORTAGE DECLARATION ON LAKE MEAD. PRODUCER VANESSA BARCHFIELD- VISITED WITH FARMERS IN MARICOPA AND PINAL COUNTIES, AND HAS MORE ON THE CHALLENGES THEY FACE.
MY NAME IS DAN. AND I FARM IN MARICOPA STANFIELD AREA. WE FARM COTTON, DERM WHEAT, A ALPHA, SILAGE CORN.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- THE MARICOPA DISTRICT SUPPLIES WATER TO HIM AND NEIGHBORS. IT'S FROM A MIX OF SOURCES.
TRADITIONALLY HALF OF WATER HAS FROM CAP.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- THAT WILL BE LESS ABLE TO FARMERS IN CENTRAL ARIZONA IN THE FUTURE. FEW REASONS FOR THAT. THREAT OF SHORTAGE OF LAKE IMMEDIATE.
IF WE GET BELOW 1075, AMOUNT OF WATER IS REDUCED BY CERTAIN AMOUNT. THAT FALLS TO LOWEST PRIORITY ENTITY THAT IS CENTRAL ARIZONA PROJECT. 7 THAT THEN TRANSLATES TO LOWEST PRIORITY USERS WITHIN CAP THAT HAPPENS TO BE IRRIGATED AGRICULTURE.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- THAT MEANS THEY LOSE ABOUT 50% OF THEIR WATER.
THAT PUTS A LARGE BURDEN ON GROUND WATER PUMPING THAT IRRIGATION HAS TO DECIDE DO WE WANT TO DO THAT LONG TERM.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- IN 2004, CONGRESS ADOPTED A LAW THAT RESOLVED CLAIMS FOR HILA RIVER AND THE NATION. HAD RAMIFICATIONS FOR NON-INDIANA USERS AS WELL. THEY GOT CHEAP WATER IN EXCHANGE. FIRST 25% CUT CAME IN 2017. 2030 IS LAST TIME THEY RECEIVE ANY WATER AT THAT REDUCED RATE.
WE WILL BE FORCED BACK TO CLOSE TO 100% GROUND WATER PRODUCTION TO PROVIDE OUR GROWERS.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- AS MORE WATER IS DRAWN OVER THE GROUND, COST OF PUMPING IT CLIMBS. POSSIBILITIES FOR SUPPLEMENTING INCLUDING LEAFING WATERS. THERE IS TWO INEVITABLES HERE. LESS WATER. TWO, COST MORE.
IN THE MEANTIME, FARMERS IN PINAL COUNTY AND C.A.P. ARE TRYING TO GET AS EFFICIENT AS WE CAN WITH WATER. EFFICIENCY IN OUR DISTRICT IS AROUND 80%. OUR FARM, WE HAVE ABOUT 1000 ACRES OF DRIP IRRIGATION.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- THAT'S ABOUT A FIFTH OF THE FARM. HE IS DOESN'T EXPECT TO PUT ANY MORE DRIP IN.
WE WOULD LIKE TO HAVE MORE IN DRIP. WE LIKE IT AND IT'S EFFICIENT WITH WATER. IT'S SO EXPENSIVE THAT WE ADOPT HAVE THE MONEY TO -- DON'T HAVE THE MONEY TO DO THAT. 8 THAT BEING SAID, IF WE EVEN HAD THE MONEY AND WE ARE FACING CUT BEBACKS IN THE FUTURE, DOESN'T MAKE SENSE TO PUT ALL ACRES IN DRIP BECAUSE WE KNOW THERE IS GOING TO BE FALLOWING IN PINAL COUNTY.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- FALLOWING MEANS PLOTS OF LAND THAT ARE NOT CULTIVATED. INCREASINGLY FALLOWING IS A TOOL TO REDUCE WATER USE. FARMERS ARE CRITICIZED FOR MAKING WATER-INTENSIVE CROPS.
IT'S AN ECONOMIC ACTIVITY JUST LIKE EXPORTING COMPUTER CHIPS THAT ARE MADE IN INTELEUP IN CHANDLER. TAKES WATER TO PRODUCE THAT. CROPS REPRODUCE. THEY NEED TO GO TO WHEREVER THE MARKET IS. WORLD DOES BETTER WITH TRADE.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- OFTEN ASKED WHY DOESN'T SWITCH TO CROPS THAT USE LESS WATER.
ANSWER TO THAT IS WE ARE TRYING TO MAKE A PROFIT. THERE ARE CROPS LIKE BARLEY USES A LOT LESS WATER THAN ALEXA FA OR COTTON. WE WOULD LOSE MONEY ON EVERY ACRE THAT WE GROW.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- CENTRAL ARIZONA FARMERS ARE CLEARLY FACING A LOT OF CHALLENGES. ARNA SAYS THERE IS A FUTURE FOR AGRICULTURE IN THIS REGION.
I THINK IT WILL BE REALLY INTERESTING TO SEE WHICH CROPS ARE ECONOMICALLY FEASIBLE HERE. WHICH ONES ARE ALLOWED HERE. I THINK THAT IS, WATER IS GOING TO BE ALL ABOUT YOU KNOW, LEGISLATIVE PROCESS OF POLICY, WHO GETS THE WATER. WHO GETS TO USE IT. WHAT IS GREATEST AND HIGHEST END USE?
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- DUNCAN IS IN DIFFERENT IRRIGATION DISTRICT. 9 FACE A LOT OF SAME WATER ISSUES. THIS FARM IS 100% ORGANIC. THAT HELPS HIM WHEN LOOKS TO A FUTURE WHERE WATER COSTS MORE.
EXAMPLE OF CROP THAT CAN SUPPORT HIGHER COST FOR IRRIGATION WATER ESPECIALLY IF APPLIED EFFICIENCY.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- WATER EFFICIENCY IS ONE OF THE MAIN PRIORITIES.
WE HAVE TO BE CONSERVING NOW. NOT AS IF WE CAN WAIT FOR SOME MAGIC NUMBER OF A LEVEL OF A LAKE TO HIT WHERE THEN WE START TO SAVE WATER. LITERALLY EVERY DAY AT OUR HOUSE HERE ON THE WARM, FARM, DOESN'T MATTER, WE ARE LOOKING TO CONSERVE AWARDED. WE SHOULD START NOW. WE SHOULD HAVE STARTED YEARS AGO.
VANESSA BARCHFIELD- BACK IN PINAL COUNTY, HE SEES OPPORTUNITIES FOR FARMS TO SWITCH TO ORGANIC FRUITS AND VEGETABLES, SOME GROWERS ARE PARTNERING WITH DEFENSE FUND TO TEST OTHER CROPS THAT CAN USE LESS WATER. SEES A FUTURE FOR FARMING HERE. REGION WILL LOOK VERY DIFFERENT.
I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THERE IS A PROPER BALANCE THAT WILL ALLOW A GRADUAL DECLINE BUT KEEP IT PROFITABLE. I'M A FIRM BELIEVER THAT EVERY STATE MIGHT HAVE A SIGNIFICANT COMPONENT OF FARM GROUND TO PROVIDE DIRECT SUPPLIES OF FOOD AND FIBER TO POPULATION IN THE STATE. PUBLIC POLICY HAS GOT TO GET ON BOARD AND AGREE THAT'S A VALUE. WE WILL MAKE THE WATER SUPPLIES VALUABLE AND FIND THAT BALANCE. ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ ¶ 10
Dan Thelander: Partner, Tempe Farming Company
Brian Betcher: GM, Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation & Drainage District
Arnott Duncan: CEO, Duncan Family Farms