On the Water Front

Selected tag(s): drought

A conservation win and groundwater loss: Arizona ends 2022 session with mixed water record

The Verde River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the Southwest, remains unprotected after another year of in action to address rural groundwater pumping in Arizona.

After months of negotiations, the Arizona Legislature passed a major water spending plan last month with funding for new conservation efforts to address deteriorating water supplies. However, for the fourth year in a row, state leaders failed to pass legislation to address unlimited groundwater pumping, missing an opportunity to enable a water secure future for 1.5 million rural residents and the state as a whole.

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Texas is drying up. We better protect our groundwater.

It is obvious to any Texan that we are in a horrific drought. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, more than 80% of Texas has been facing drought conditions most of the year. Extreme or worse drought now covers 51% of the state.

The drought is hurting water supplies, particularly in Central Texas, which has received as little as 5 inches of rain since October in some areas, well below average. Coleman County had its driest January-to-June period on record going back to 1895.

Groundwater functions as a buffer to streams and rivers during periods of low rainfall, sustaining vital baseflow and spring flow.  But increased groundwater pumping coupled with a prolonged decrease in aquifer recharge from little rainfall causes the connection between rivers and groundwater to be lost and rivers and springs to dry up.

Although it will rain again, the reality is that Texas is becoming more arid. In the future, we will see less rain and more days of triple-digit temperatures.  As Texas weather changes, so must our methods of managing groundwater, which will become increasingly precious.

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This almond industry expert participated in the Leadership Institute to learn more about groundwater. Now he’s sharing that knowledge.

Donny Hicks

This blog is part of a series of profiles on Water Leadership Institute graduates. Sign up to participate in the Leadership Institute at www.edf.org/waterleadership or www.edf.org/agualiderazgo.

Donny Hicks knows almonds. He is a longtime almond farmer near Modesto, works as a field representative for the almond processor Hughson Nut and is a member of the task force for the Almond Board’s sustainability program. Already experiencing water cuts firsthand, Donny participated in the Leadership Institute, a program led by EDF and the Rural Conservation Assistance Corporation, last year to better understand water issues in his area. He was surprised to learn much more. Read on to learn what Donny gained from the institute and how he is adapting to water scarcity by working with another institute graduate, Joseph Gallegos, to test a new innovative irrigation system.

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The Colorado River is getting closer to tanking. Can we free ourselves from the long arc of depletion?

My mom on a houseboat and my dad reveling in the “glory days” of Lake Powell, May 1981.

“They would come to the river to see a reflection of their own liberated minds, running free and easy…In the midst of what had once been regarded as the bleakest scarcity they would find abundance.” —Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire

Lake Powell, our nation’s second-largest reservoir, dropped 40 feet in just the last year to a new record low, triggering an unprecedented set of emergency actions. The changes underway at Powell provide a striking illustration of how a new era of aridification in the West is pushing a river management culture steeped in assumptions of the past to the brink. It’s been a few years since I’ve visited Lake Powell, so two weeks ago I went back to see how it’s changed with my own eyes.

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As local movements for groundwater protection rise, will state leaders finally respond?

Across Arizona, the consequences of unlimited groundwater pumping are becoming untenable for many communities. In response, Arizona state Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, has introduced legislation, for the third year in a row, to enable rural communities to manage their groundwater through a new opt-in program called Rural Management Areas (RMAs).

Although the bill again did not receive a committee hearing, this year is very different from the past. Over the last several months, more residents and local stakeholders are becoming engaged and organized around water security and water self-determination, getting mobilized in local settings like town halls, community meetings, and even residents’ living rooms and porches. It has become clear that the people of rural Arizona no longer accept being ignored on water issues at the state level. Here are a few recent examples:

  • Residents in Cochise County, fed up with state inaction to address unfettered groundwater pumping, have submitted signatures for a ballot measure to ask voters to approve a new Active Management Area (AMA) in the Willcox Basin in a local election in November. They are now gathering signatures for a second AMA in the Douglas Basin.
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This farmland repurposing project is delivering 3 benefits. A park may be next.

Farmland repurposed for groundwater recharge with Huron in background Sarah Woolf, a member of a Fresno County farm family, is standing on the edge of a field that most recently grew hemp; garlic, tomatoes and onions before that; and cotton years ago. On one side is the dry Arroyo Pasajero Creek, bushes, and a wild, scraggly tree that looks like something from a Dr. Seuss book. On the other side in the far distance is the small farming town of Huron.

This former hemp field has been regraded to recharge groundwater from the creek during the next big storm in order to provide both water supply and flood control benefits. It’s an example of the kind of project that could be funded by the state’s new Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program, which launched this year with an initial $50 million. The program was created to help ease the transition for farmers to sustainable groundwater management while creating new benefits on previously irrigated land.

My colleagues and I recently visited the Arroyo Pasajero Creek and talked with Woolf and later Huron Mayor Rey León about the project and current drought. In addition to conserving water, here are three additional benefits of this land repurposing project — and one envisioned for the future — that they highlighted.

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Posted in Agriculture, California, Community, Drought, Groundwater Recharge, Land Repurposing / Also tagged , , | : / 1 Response