Some longtime area farmers are retiring, and their children aren't going into the family business. As they sell, they're attracting attention from buyers who want their water privileges but aren’t necessarily looking to go into the agriculture business.
Elston Grubaugh, general manager of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District (WMIDD), said that in his district he's been seeing more longtime landowners leaving the field, as it were. Sometimes their parcels and water privileges are sold to fellow farmers, or they’re sold to landlords who lease the land back to farmers.
Then, some buyers ask what the process is like to move and sell water, in essence saying that "the water’s pretty valuable, how do we maximize our investment using the water," Grubaugh said.
Grubaugh said he’s seen more of this kind of changing of hands within the last couple of years especially, although he’s not sure why.
"We do know that there are some people out there that are buying land that have an interest. They have asked questions that at least indicate that they’re interested in the value of the water more than they are the value of the land to produce crops."
WMIDD is part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Gila Project, which permits diversion of Colorado River water to satisfy beneficial consumptive use of 300,000 acre-feet of water in each of two divisions. As one of several irrigation districts in the Yuma area, WMIDD has the rights to irrigate about 62,000 irrigable acres within its boundaries east of Yuma.
Grubaugh said that when landowners in the district sell irrigable land, they’re not so much selling the water as they are selling the ability to get water from WMIDD — similarly to how when a person sells a house, he’s not selling his electricity but the ability to be connected through APS.
When prospective new landowners ask what the process is to sell the water to buyers in Phoenix, Grubaugh tells them it’s a "very, very difficult process" with state and federal layers.
Hillary Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6857. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSHillaryDavis or on Twitter at @YSHillaryDavis.