Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Western Drought, Part 3: Arizona Farmers Lacking Adequate Water Allotments

News / Newsline August 26, 2021

Credit: Kyle L. Wilson 

Arizona farmers who rely on water allotments aren’t receiving them, as years of drought have impacted the water supply. Micheal Clements shares more with Arizona row crop farmer Nancy Caywood.

Clements: Caywood Farms, southeast of Phoenix, Arizona, relies on water allotments to help grow a crop each year. But after years of drought, there’s simply not enough water, even though farmers must still pay for their water allotment. Nancy Caywood says the issue goes back to when her family first purchased the farm in the 1930s.

Caywood: They purchased land, and they had to sign an agreement with the San Carlos Irrigation District saying they would depend on that district for water, and that they would never drill a well, and also that they would pay for two-acre feet of water, whether or not they received it. The agreement still holds true for today, and the water and taxes are attached. So, if we were not to pay our water bill, they could seize our land.

Clements: She says several years ago, water allotments began to drop below what is needed to grow a crop but diversifying farm income has helped the operation stay afloat.

Caywood: They were not [providing] enough water to support that entire farm, so we had to start fallowing land. Cotton takes about four acre-feet of water to grow, alfalfa take seven-to-nine-acre feet of water, and we'd get a water allotment in that said we had under a quarter of an acre-foot. And I have a degree in education and a master's degree in agriculture education. And so, we do agritourism or farm education on our family farm. And that's helped a lot.

Clements: She says farms in the area need an updated agreement from the nearly 100-year-old rules that attached water payments to taxes.

Caywood: What we would like to see happen is that it's detached from our taxes, so we could pay our taxes, and when water is available, pay for that two-acre feet of water. And the second thing that we would like to happen is not to pay for that two-acre feet of water. If we can't receive water, we certainly can't plant and reap a harvest. We don't have the money to keep paying for a product that we don't receive.

Clements: Learn more at fb.org/drought. Micheal Clements, Washington.

Editor's Note: This episode of Newsline is the final episode in a series covering the drought in the Western U.S. Each week, Newsline has featured the story of a farmer or rancher directly impacted by drought conditions. Visit fb.org/drought to learn more about how water access in the West has far-reaching effects for American agriculture as well as consumers near and far.

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