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What will Colorado River deal mean for Yuma and Imperial counties?

The Colorado River at Yuma, Arizona
Kirk Siegler
The Colorado River at Yuma, Arizona

Water experts in Yuma say Monday's announced plan to conserve Colorado River water will not have a negative impact for the agricultural industry here.

Water attorney Meghan Scott tells KAWC that Yuma and Arizona's share of the 3 million acre-feet of water cuts over the next three years will not be for ag, as that industry has senior water rights.

Water users in California, Arizona and Nevada are ready to commit to those 3 million acre-feet in cuts for the next three years, when an existing river management agreement expires.

One acre foot of water is enough to cover a football field one foot deep in water.

More than $1 billion in funding from the Inflation Reduction Act will go to farmers, cities and tribes to reduce their take of the river’s water.

“This is a short-term deal," said Brenda Burman, who runs the Central Arizona Project. "This is a short-term deal to build stability and to prepare us for 2026.”

The states were under pressure from the Biden administration to reduce their use or risk federal intervention. Heavy snow this past winter eased some of that urgency and gave the region’s water leaders more time to negotiate future agreements.

"This is a positive outcome while we look at the previous agreement," Scott said.

The Imperial Irrigation District, which neighbors Yuma County in California, forecasts that its temporary, voluntary and compensated conservation volumes will increase by about 250,000 acre-feet per year for the Lower Basin proposal, contingent upon development of a federal funding agreement

"IID's portion of that would be 1,000,000 acre feet for a total of 250,000 acre feet a year for four years, ” Robert Schettler, IID spokesman, told KAWC.

When asked if is that sustainable for the water needs in Imperial County, Schettler said it's going to mean additional conservation.

"What hasn't been worked out yet is how that conservation is going to be generated," he said. "It's our preference to enhance our build up on the existing farm conservation program."

"Growers that are already enrolled in this simply can serve more but that will take more investment, most likely, Schettler continued. "There's another component too, that if we can't generate enough of it in that manner, maybe some land will have to be taken out of production, which is something that none of us want here.”

Schettler says that should fallowing become necessary, IID hopes to rotate fields throughout the seasons and not for a full year.

Victor is originally from West Sacramento, California and has lived in Arizona for more than five years. He began his print journalism career in 2004 following his graduation from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Victor has been a reporter for the following daily newspapers: The Monterey County Herald, The Salinas Californian and the Reno Gazette-Journal, where he covered stories including agriculture, education and Latino community news. Victor has also served as a local editor for Patch, a national news organization with hyperlocal websites, in Carmichael, California in the Sacramento area. He also served as the editor for The New Vision, the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which includes Yuma and La Paz counties. Victor lives in Somerton. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and following most sports.
As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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