For the first time in history, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to force mandatory cuts in water usage originating from the mighty Colorado River. The hardest hit state would be Arizona, and the hardest hit group will be farmers.

While seven states belong to the upper and lower Colorado River Basin water allotment, “Arizona is expected to lose 512,000 acre-feet of water, about one-fifth of the state’s Colorado River supply but less than 8% of its total water,” reported Felicia Fonseca of the Associated Press. By comparison, Nevada will lose 21,000-acre feet and Mexico would lose 80,000-acre feet.

“The cuts will be most deeply felt in Arizona, which entered into an agreement in 1968 for junior rights to Colorado River water in exchange for U.S. funding to build a 336-mile canal to send the water through the desert to major cities,” reported Fonseca in the article, “First water cuts in U.S. West supply to hammer Arizona farmers.”

Crops and dairy to be hit hard

The drought gripping the West has resulted in shrinking water levels in reservoirs. Several states, including California, Idaho, and Oregon, also have cut back water to be used for agriculture.

However, the Arizona situation represents a first of its kind situation in that state as it specifically applies to the Colorado River basin. A significant number of farm fields between Phoenix and Tucson would go fallow, and crops such as alfalfa and corn for silage would face major acreage reductions. That’s a major concern for dairy.

Arizona dairy farmers rely on those forages to feed some of the most productive cows in the nation that average 24,568 pounds of milk per cow. That yield per cow stands in the top 10 among all U.S. states. Arizona is home to about 200,000 cows, and it ranks as the 13th largest dairy state. Those cows are found on 90 dairy farms with an average herd size of 2,200 head.

For now, the other seven states in the Colorado River basin have been spared from the major water reductions faced by Arizona. Again, that’s due to the junior water rights. Time will tell if additional impacts will be faced by farmers in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2021
August 16, 2021
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