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Serving: West

Whiskey is for drinking; agriculture water is for fighting

Author and humorist Mark Twain is given credit for the saying, “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting.” It is unknown if Twain ever spoke those words.

A bottle of whiskey makes for sipping. Water makes for a political and regulatory hot potato in the West.

In California, water wars continue to get nastier as politicians and regulatory officials support water use to save the Delta smelt (good fish bait) instead of using water for agriculture to feed and clothe the world’s population where one in seven people go to bed hungry each night.

This is a human travesty.

To make the water issue worse, Mother Nature underperformed this winter. Good early rains and snows were followed by a January through March dry period, perhaps the driest in California history.

As a result of both, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently backpedalled on promised water allocations. Water available to south of the Delta agricultural water service contractors dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent.

Translation – less water for the most fertile and productive farming region in the world. It’s a travesty.


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Across the border, drought is now a four-letter word in Arizona. According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Arizona is in the 11th or 12th consecutive official year of drought.

One of Arizona’s most respected water leaders is Herb Guenther, former ADWR director. Guenther told about 600 farmers and industry members at the Southwest Ag Summit this spring that Arizona is fortunate of have diverse sources of water.

The Colorado River delivers about 37 percent of Arizona’s water supply, or about 2.8 million acre feet annually. The Salt River system delivers about 1.3 million acre feet. The Gila River kicks in about 400,000 acre feet.

About 74 percent of the state’s water supplies are used to grow food and fiber. The previous figure was 86 percent until urban development snatched up more gallonage.

Yuma County, where almost all of the nation’s winter supply of vegetables is grown, has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River with a guaranteed 1.2 million acre feet of water annually.

As the Arizona drought worsens, there are ongoing threats to take away water from Yuma-area agriculture. So far it’s mostly hypothetical.

Farmers in central Arizona have the most to fear from prolonged drought, plus as with California, political-regulatory decisions which reduce the affordability to farm.

While California has its smelt huggers, Arizona has its coal haters. The Environmental Protection Agency will require stricter clean air standards at the coal-powered Navajo Generating Station; possibly a $1-billion-dollar upgrade.

The upgrade would significantly increase the cost to push water through the 336-mile-long Central Arizona Project. The CAP delivers water from the Colorado River near Parker through a canal system into central Arizona through Phoenix and then south of Tucson.

The CAP delivers water to about 80 percent of Arizona’s population, located in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties. Central Arizona agriculture uses about half of the water delivered by the CAP annually – about 400,000 acre feet.

One estimate last year suggests about 30 percent of the farms in central Arizona could be forced out of business due to increased water costs tied to the NGS upgrade.

After this perusal of Western water issues, perhaps a sip of whiskey is timely.

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More from Western Farm Press:

Californians lose 800,000 acre-feet of water to 305 minnows

Bay Delta plan draws mixed reviews

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