Arizona Water News: August 2015

Arizona’s new water rush raising tensions

Tony Davis | Arizona Daily Star

BOWIE — Farmers from California and Arizona are pushing to drill wells and pump unregulated water in Cochise County, triggering intense rivalries and calls for a crackdown.

Some farmers from the drought-parched, increasingly regulated Central Valley of California want to plant pistachios and other crops here, largely to feed China’s growing demand for tree nuts. But others who are already here and pumping water want the state to limit new irrigation.

The conflict erupted recently at an emotionally charged public hearing in the Bowie High School gymnasium. Hundreds of people argued for the right to keep drilling and irrigating — among them aspiring farmers, existing ranchers and growers who plan to expand, and retirees and other land owners who hope to sell for cropland don’t want their future access to the water shut off. They drowned out comments from a handful on the other side who say they’re trying to protect the aquifer. Read more…

How the West Overcounts Its Water Supplies

Abrahm Lustgarten | New York Times

PAUL MATUSKA is the closest thing the American West has to a water cop, and his beat includes Needles, Calif., a beleaguered desert town midway between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Los Angeles.

About 4,800 people live in Needles, on the western bank of the Colorado River where it cuts a swath in the mud between California and Arizona. The old railroad town is the gateway to the farmland of the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation across the river.

Mr. Matuska, a hydrologist, is one of about a dozen accountants for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water distribution along the lower half of the Colorado River. His job is to count the water used by cities like Needles and the farms around them — lands close to the essential Colorado — and make sure they don’t take more than their share of the river.

As it happens, Needles gets most of its water from underground — pumping an average of about 700 million gallons a year from four wells it has drilled into the local aquifer. In recent years, such withdrawals have taken on more importance in the West, particularly in California and Arizona, as streams shrivel, rivers are fought over and reservoirs run dry. About 60 percent of California’s water now comes from underground, according to estimates by NASA researchers. Arizona, staring down imminent rationing of Colorado River water, pumps nearly half its supplies from aquifers. Read more…

The High Cost Of Energy In Arizona’s Water Supply

Will Stone | KJZZ

Arizona is wasting lots of energy on water.

On average, 30 to 60 percent of a municipality’s energy bill is spent on moving and treating water. The energy costs of operating public water systems in the Colorado River Basin amount to about $750 million. In fact, the Central Arizona Project, which pipes in water from the Colorado River, is the state’s largest end user of energy.

“To the extent that we reduce the energy bill for our water utilities and waste-water treatment plants, we can reduce the water bills at our homes,” said Jorge Figueroa with the conservation group Western Resource Advocates.

In a new report, Figueroa’s organization said utilities can use what is known as “performance contracting” to pay for these efficiency projects. That’s when a public utility, for example, takes out a loan for a retrofit project and the energy company guarantees the upgrades in efficiency and conservation will cover the overall cost of financing.

Future Water Demand In Southeastern Arizona The Focus Of Study

Sara Hammond | KJZZ

A federal grant will fund a study aimed at finding ways to meet future water demands for the lower Santa Cruz River basin in southeastern Arizona.

The basin study will evaluate current and future water supply and demand imbalances. It will identify resources needed to mitigate climate change impacts and improve water reliability for municipal, agricultural and environmental uses.

The lower Santa Cruz River basin extends from Green Valley north through metropolitan Tucson and into southern Pinal County, an area with a population of nearly 1 million people. The Santa Cruz is a tributary of the Colorado River, a major river system in the Bureau of Reclamation’s service area.

Since 1993, the Tucson region has been depending on Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project to recharge groundwater supplies and for direct use. Southeastern Arizona is projected to experience groundwater supply deficits by 2025. Read more…

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