Water Remains Critical Issue for Yuma Area

2013-07-24 16:28:00

Matt Molenar’s 6-year-old daughter really thinks there needs to be a change in the use of water in the family’s home, so he now turns off the faucet while he’s brushing his teeth.

Does that help in the need to conserve water, he wondered during a forum on water issues held Wednesday during Greater Yuma Economic Development Corporation’s quarterly luncheon. Or is it just a drop in the very large bucket of water that needs to be conserved to meet future needs for the resource in the West?

Three-second showers and 2-second tooth brushing do help but are indeed just a drop in the bucket in the projected future needs for conserved water, responded forum speaker Tom Davis, general manager of the Yuma County Water Users Association. For example, he noted, more than 70 percent of Arizona’s water is used by agriculture.

It’s often been suggested that farmers are wasting that water and need to practice more conservation.

Davis refuted those charges, saying farmers don’t use any more water than they have to.

“Farmers use water as efficiently as possible,” he said. “It costs money to waste water.”

Added John Boelts, a Yuma-area farmers and fellow speaker: “Agriculture does not waste water.”

To save even more would require new technology that does not now exist.

But his fellow farmers in Yuma County do use it to produce 175 different crops that provide healthy food for families across the nation and around the world, he said. With an estimated value of $3.2 billion, agriculture is Yuma County’s No. 1 economic engine, employing thousands of people and touching virtually every business in the area.

Boelts observed that more than 900 trucks a day come through Yuma from Thanksgiving to April 1 to pick up loads of fresh vegetables for markets across the United States and Canada.

“It has a profound impact and we’re proud of what we do,” Boelts said.

And Davis’ job is to ensure that the farmers in the Yuma Valley receive a stable and affordable supply of water to produce those crops.

That it can be accomplished is the result of the huge diversion dams and irrigation systems on the Colorado River that control its flow and provide water storage, he said.

But a lot of people are advocating to do away with that control, he said.

“There are powerful groups in the U.S. that don’t believe the river should be dammed with huge irrigation systems,” Davis said. “But we wouldn’t be able to feed the world without them.”

And the faucets in large cities would just flow sand in a short time, he predicted.

Threats to Yuma’s water are coming from other directions as well.

Ken Rosevear, executive director of the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce, traced the history of one such effort, the introduction in the 2013 Legislature by House Speaker Andy Tobin of HB 2338 that would have authorized water augmentation authorities that could buy and sell water.

Yuma County saw the bill as a water grab of its water and mounted a campaign to fight it. As a result, Rep. Brenda Barton, chair of the House Water and Agriculture Committee, held the bill. In the last few weeks, she and other members of an ad hoc committee have been meeting with stakeholders in Yuma, Sierra Vista, Flagstaff, Prescott and Payson to gather input on water issues. The next step is for the committee to review that input and consider possible legislation for the 2014 session.

It’s a process that people in the Yuma area have been heavily involved in and will continue to do so, said Rosevear.

But he also believes that new legislation is not needed and the Legislature should leave resolution of water issues to the water experts in local communities.