Matthew Nelson and Joy Hellard
On Sept. 28, the SBR Democratic Club met for a presentation and discussion about the future of water in Pinal County. On Aug. 16, 2021, the U.S. Department of Reclamation issued a Tier 1 shortage of Central Arizona Project (CAP) water that will take effect on Jan. 1, 2022. A Tier 1 shortage means a 512,000-acre-feet reduction of water from the Colorado River resulting in a 20 percent loss of water for Arizona. Unfortunately, Pinal County farmers and ranchers will take the deepest cut. Data from the Arizona Department of Water Resources estimates a 50 percent to 60 percent loss of CAP water for the county’s crops and livestock in 2022. Eighty-one percent of water usage in Pinal County is agricultural, and drilled wells, used for irrigation, are unmetered. Although the Tier 1 shortage will not affect residential areas, if farmers return to a higher reliance on groundwater, it will eventually impact all stakeholders using the aquifer.
Although Arizona and Pinal County implemented conservative water measures for decades, Tier 1 is now a challenging reality. Regulations and laws that protect the future of water for all Arizonans are essential. Despite bipartisan support in the 2021 legislative session, 12 bills to protect Arizona’s surface and groundwater never made it out of committee for a vote. To replace the loss of water from the Colorado River, legislators proposed solutions such as desalination plants, reclamation basins, or piped water from the Mississippi or Missouri Rivers. However, the cost of construction and the extensive time required to build these infrastructures may come too late to help Arizona’s water shortage. Linda Stitzer, Arizona senior water policy maker, stated, “As water levels in Lake Mead continue to fall, additional reductions will be triggered.” Lake Mead’s water level currently stands at 1,067 feet. If Lake Mead falls to 1,025 feet, a Tier 3 shortage will occur. This water reduction will impact residential and industrial users and make Arizonans further dependent on declining aquifers. The SBR Democratic Club will hold additional meetings on this topic, with plans to invite elected officials and experts to discuss the solutions and proposals for Pinal County’s water future.