Yuma Ag & You – Water

by Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott         June 7, 2015

Wow, the article in the Yuma Sun May 24th really pushed my buttons. The idea that university professors, who ‘study’ the agricultural industry in Yuma County feel qualified to then write books, publish articles on and speak as authorities on water issues in Arizona with the national media. Robert Glennon, whose theories for water management were outlined in the article, actually stated “my message to them (the Yuma Agricultural Industry) is you can take control of your own destiny, what’s going to happen to them, and a modest sale or lease of water would keep rural communities vibrant and strong and healthy and take care of this pressure to give up water”. Really? How does this even make sense? Water users will sell or lease water to other entities while what happens to the communities they live in? Every farmer would like to have the crystal ball that tells them which crops or agricultural enterprises will make money each year.

Mr. Glennon states that this type of market-based system is already working and decries that such agreements are not happening faster. He mentions Blythe, CA and the Palo Verde Valley, CA as success stories. I wonder whether he talked to the citizens in the areas where land has been fallowed. The equipment , seed, fuel and multitude of support industries in agriculture, school districts, city and county managers affected when up to one-third of their farm acreage is out of production for up to 3 years. How about the labor force, at all levels, who lose their jobs. What do such schemes do to the tax base and the quality of life in these areas? How do the grocery stores, restaurants, malls and community groups survive?

Nowhere in the article does it talk about the amount of water that is returned in the form of food, fiber and forage products. Most produce crops are up to 90 percent water. The alfalfa he maligns is the main feed for dairy cattle, the source of most of the milk, cheese, and ice cream we so enjoy. Alfalfa is also part of the cattle rations, as well as feed for sheep, goats, and horses. Crop rotations that include Sudan grass and wheat are mandatory in maintaining the health and productivity of the soil.

Another quote from Mr. Glennon is “We are not talking about destruction of rural communities. I would be appalled at that. I’m trying to protect rural communities. But they’re going to have to give up some water, the pressures on cities are overwhelming and the critical power has shifted over time”. How does his scheme not destroy our town? Why does Yuma have to give up water? Agricultural water in Yuma has the oldest rights on the Colorado River, and is not being held in reserve until the cities want it. The water is being productively used and managed in our primary industry, farming.

I do not know what Mr. Glennon thinks will happen in Yuma, where 1 in 4 jobs is connected to agriculture. How is it that he has not studied the reduction of growth in the metropolitan areas so that more water is not needed, or conservation measures in cities that have been allowed to develop without a reliable, long term water supplies. Rural communities and agriculture should not be collateral damage to poorly planned and managed growth by urban areas in the basin states.

The Yuma agricultural industry is well aware of the upcoming challenges created by the continuing drought. There is continual improvement in crop varieties, farming methods and irrigation system management. What Mr. Glennon does not understand is that Yuma County agriculture works as a community, knowing that there is strength in numbers, not in pitting neighbors against each other.

Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott is a soil and water conservationist. She can be reached at rjsm09@msn.com.