A Landmark Water Deal Hits Home to Arizona: Have We Solved the Water Crisis?

The 800 pound elephant that is constantly in the gigantic room that is Arizona is water: the specter of dwindling water from our most prominent water sources, of long term drought, and potentially the end of the Arizona (and more overarchingly, the American Southwest) that we have learned to love. We have covered the topic frequently, and you can get up to date here.

Recently a landmark deal was announced that may completely alter the landscape of the water conversation in our state. Arizona, as well as California and Nevada, have agreed to cut 10% of our respective allocations of water from the Colorado River through 2026. This is an agreement of a magnitude unheard of in most of our lifetimes, and represents a bit of a “nuclear option” in dealing with our water crisis.

Farming is generally seen as the most significant (and least efficient) use of water, and that is specifically mentioned in this deal. This deal may represent the beginning of the end of Arizona’s large-scale farming industry; while us city-dwelling folk often forget about the importance of the farming industry in this state, it is worth noting that two of the legendary “5 C’s” in Arizonan lore, cotton and citrus, are directly related to this.

Thankfully, Arizona farmers seem as though they will be supported in this deal, with $1 billion in allocations from the Inflation Reduction Act dedicated to farmers as well as tribes and cities. But much like how Covid-era freebie checks weren’t meant to keep anyone afloat forever, it does feel like this might be a “writing on the wall” moment: the end of large scale farming in Arizona.

Considering the glacial pace of moves from the government as well as the constant potential for in-fighting within competing interests, such a significant agreement and bold move must be applauded; this is a win. This is huge. And if…the biggest IF in Arizona’s modern history of if’s…the drought super-cycle in the Midwest ends in the next few years and things return back to normal, this might be applauded as an agreement that extends Arizona’s relevancy into the 22nd century.

The word “If” is carrying a heavy weight in that statement, it’s worth noting. It is truly heartening that such a landmark deal could get done, but if the drought super-cycle continues, it will only be the first cut and may be known as the point where our way of life forever changed. And there is little we can do in the meantime.