Arizona’s efforts to cope with reduced Colorado River supplies, moving in reverse

Last week’s cancellation of a key meeting in Arizona to work on the state’s plan to reduce its Colorado River water use was an “oh shit, what now?” moment. (Ian James’ story on the cancellation and the current state of the discussions here.)

In the wake of the cancellation, there’s now a new letter, this time from a coalition of central Arizona cities, laying down a marker as cities push back against efforts to move municipal water to agriculture as part of the water use reduction plan.

This is super weird. Everywhere else in the Colorado River Basin, especially in the big complexity of California, finding ways to compensate agricultural communities in return for a share of their water as supplies shrink has provided a difficult but effective path forward. That’s the path Arizona seemed to be on as well, beginning with the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act. That deal provided subsidies to farmers who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford expensive Colorado River water, in return for the farmers accepting lower-priority water that would have to be curtailed if and when supplies ran short.

Now that we’re actually facing that curtailment, some in Arizona are saying the farmers should be propped up, again, by moving water from municipalities to these same farmers.

The new letter, From the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, makes clear that propping up declining Central Arizona agriculture with a transfer of water the municipalities have worked hard and paid much to secure won’t cut it:

The letter follows a similar letter a week earlier from the Gila River Indian Community. Both suggest a level of discord in Arizona that doesn’t bode well for the challenges to come.