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Arizona ag hit hard by water cuts

drought soil

The savage drought experienced in the western U.S. has long been foreseen, although until extremely recently it has been managed with a long-term strategy of wishing and hoping.

The resulting water limitations, imposed on the southwestern states by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, have hit Arizona particularly hard. Its water allocation has been cut by 592,000 acre-feet—21 percent of the total.

According to a report by Phoenix’s channel 5 news, the cuts will apply to growers in the Pinal Valley, south of Phoenix. At present, growers in the Yuma Valley, on the border between Arizona and California, are not affected, because they are “senior users” according to the byzantine water allotment process used in the western states.

richard smoley produce blueprints

But Yuma could be affected, because many more cuts will need to be made.

Chelsea McGuire, director of government relations with the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, notes that the Bureau of Reclamation had previously said that “we’re going to need an additional 2-4 million acre feet to stay in the river to avoid a crash, a catastrophic situation.”

As people in the produce industry know, the principal growing areas for leafy greens in the U.S. are the Yuma Valley and California’s Salinas Valley. The timing of their seasons is extremely opportune because Yuma comes into production just as Salinas is winding down, ensuring a year-round supply of the crop.

If these monumental cuts are made, American consumers may see certain shortages in their produce departments in the winter months, since Yuma produces 90 percent of the nation’s leafy greens at that time of year.

McGuire points out that growers in the region have proposed a 1 acre-foot cut per acre as a way of alleviating the shortage. This amounts to 925,000 acre-feet—still well below the 2-4 million acre-feet figure set by the bureau.

If the present drought continues—which it may or may not—it is easy to conceive that the Yuma shortfall may interrupt the supply of the nation’s leafy greens in the winter months.

If the situation continues into the long term, it could mean that controlled-environment agriculture (CEA) will have an increasing advantage in the leafy greens industry, at least in certain seasons.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.