Bruce Babbitt: Pinal County Farmers and CAP Risk Setting Off a Colorado River Water War


Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor and Secretary of the Interior, has a striking op-ed in tomorrow’s Arizona Republic placing the blame for Arizona’s current Colorado River failures squarely on Pinal County farmers and the leadership of the Central Arizona Project.

Ultimately the responsibility for approving Arizona’s part of the critical Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan lies with the Arizona state legislature. But the two groups now stand in the way of that, Babbitt argues.

Behind this legislative impasse are two groups threatening to block ratification.

The first is the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), a local elected body that distributes our Colorado River water throughout central Arizona.

CAWCD is now reaching beyond its proper role by attempting to intervene in the interstate Colorado River negotiations….

The second threat to legislative ratification of the DCP comes from the Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, the Central Arizona Irrigation District and several other agricultural districts located in Pinal County….

In exchange for giving up long-term rights to Colorado River water and pumping more local groundwater, the districts bargained for and received heavily subsidized Colorado River rates to be paid for by property taxes levied on landowners in Phoenix, Tucson and throughout central Arizona.

Now they’re trying to wriggle out of that bargain in a way that threatens the entire Colorado River Basin, Babbitt argues.

As this controversy drags on in successive legislative sessions some are asking, “Why the urgency? Does it really matter that it goes unresolved?”

It matters a lot. If the Drought Contingency Plan is not ratified soon California and the other Basin states may decide to proceed without us. That could be the beginning of another Colorado River water war.

Arizona has blundered into Colorado River wars in the past, and we usually lose. We must not go that way again. It is up to the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to promptly ratify the Drought Contingency Plan as negotiated by the Department of Water Resources.


One Comment

  1. Do you have the USDA crop acreage information for crops grown in Pinal County? There must not be a lot of fresh fruits and veggies for direct human consumption. Right now I’m guessing much is for crops that are in surplus, hence low prices. Or, alfalfa that is exported overseas. My recollection is that groundwater there declined to the point it got too expensive to pump, hence the CAP surface water was more feasible. Switching back to groundwater, with low commodity prices must not feasible. Not to mention that the aquifer will further decline. I can’t say that mining out an aquifer in a desert environment makes much sense. With aridification, that aquifer might be needed for human consumption. The political situation is obvious, hence the farmers looking at any legal avenues that might afford them time. As Ever, Greg

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