Water bill could be crippling Yuma County economy
The Colorado River has often been called Yuma's lifeline, and rightfully so.
Thanks to the Colorado, we have a thriving industry based on agriculture. It's the region's No. 1 economic driver, worth an estimated $3.2 billion a year. We produce – proudly – more than 90 percent of the nation's leafy vegetables during the winter months. And we have the ability to grow crops 365 days a year.
A 2009 farm census notes that Yuma County had 531 farms averaging 1,435 acres each.
Providing support for them in their production of food and fiber were 411 agricultural-related businesses in Yuma County. Some are small, local mom and pop farms and businesses, while others are national or international, but all are essential to our economy.
Lettuce is the biggest crop here, but thanks to irrigation and smart farming practices, we also grow cotton, wheat, broccoli, melons, citrus, dates and more, which are then shipped all over the globe. And agriculture here extends past the fields of crops – cattle and sheep also thrive in Yuma County.
Agriculture's impact here is so tremendous that it has become interwoven into a second pillar of our economy – tourism. Agritourism has blossomed into a strong field, culminating each winter season with the Southwest Ag Summit and Yuma Lettuce Days.
Yuma County has relied on its strong water rights, which are often said to be the oldest on the Colorado, for our successful agriculture industry – the two go hand in hand.
Now, it appears that a bill in the Arizona House will directly impact Yuma's access to that water. HB 2338 would establish Regional Water Augmentation Authorities, which would have the power to buy and sell water to their members. The prime target is suspected to be Yuma County's rights to Colorado River water by our thirsty neighbors in central Arizona.
Unfortunately, drought and population needs across the state have combined forces to put a strain on Arizona's water supply. Yuma has been fortunate because of the Colorado, and that's a resource others in the state are well aware of.
Should the bill pass, it will likely end up being sorted out in the court system. One key question is how “augmentation” is defined. Does it mean developing new water sources, or getting water from someone else?
The legislation has other concerns as well – eminent domain could be used to acquire land to augment water sources. And the entities created would not be accountable to voters, which gives Yumans little recourse.
A move to reduce or take our water would be devastating to Yuma County, and it's critical to our No. 1 economic pillar that this bill does not pass. This is the time to reach out to your legislators and tell them to fight HB 2338.