Comments From The Chemo Couch: 11 – The War For Water, Then And Now

Religion is for people afraid of going to hell; Spirituality is for those who have already been there. ---- Said around 12-step recovery meetings

In a pair of articles last month, reporter Tony Davis – perhaps the Arizona Daily Star’s last old-school investigative journalist — told a story about the escalating conflict between two agencies for control of the state’s water future.  The Arizona Department of Water Resources, under the Governor’s direction, manages statewide water issues while the Central Arizona Project’s Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAP) manages the Colorado River water life in the desert depends on.

According to Davis, Governor Doug Ducey wants control to spur growth and development and for there to be one voice in the state on water issues.  CAP, they argue, only has jurisdiction in three counties, Pima, Pinal and Maricopa.  At the heart of the issue is a decline in Colorado River water into the Lake Mead reservoir, a decline which could cut off supplies to the south under existing agreements.  The fight for water in a dry desert is nothing new.

In 1933 then-Arizona Governor Benjamin Moeur mobilized the state’s National Guard troops and dispatched them to the Colorado River to prevent California from building Parker Dam, claiming it would be “stealing” Arizona’s water.  One hundred Guardsmen arrived at the dam site with machine guns and construction workers laid down their shovels and left their bulldozers.  The Guardsmen commandeered a ferry boat – dubbed “The  Arizona Navy” – to patrol the river.

Construction was held up for a year, with the U.S. Supreme Court deciding that California was “illegally exporting” Arizona’s water.  Congress then passed a law nullifying the Court’s decision and allowing California to capture and store Colorado River water.  In 1922, following a period of high rain- and snowfall, the river’s water was divvied up among seven states under the guidance of then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover.

The Colorado River Compact was meant to ensure continuous supplies of water to California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado, with California receiving the lion’s share even though it generated none of the river’s water.  The Compact was rejected by the states until Congress acted in 1928.  Arizona, which had only received promises from the Compact, maintained opposition until Mexico was granted a share in a 1944 water rights treaty.

In 1966 Congress approved the Central Arizona Project and a canal was built to carry Colorado River water south, a canal trying to be a 333-mile “man-made river flowing uphill in a place of almost no rain,” as author Marc Reisner put it in Cadillac Desert.

Native Americans lost agricultural land as commercial agriculture and open pit copper mining took their water table down to bedrock.  In 1975 the O’odham pressured the federal government to bring a lawsuit against Tucson and the companies that stole their aquifer.  A legislated settlement reallocating CAP and other water in 1982 was not implemented until amended in 2004, cutting some tribes out of the settlement until 2030.

The problem today is that the amount of water the Colorado River carries is less than the amount allocated by politicians and is in decline due to climate change.  Lake Mead, which Las Vegas depends on for both water and power, has been dropping 10 feet a year.  At this writing, Lake Mead is at 39 percent of capacity, with Lake Powell at 60 percent of capacity.  A drop below 1075 feet on January 1 of any year can trigger huge cuts to southern Arizona.  Today’s level is 1094 feet, but that has skirted perilously close to the trigger several times in the last two years.  Some 30 million people depend on that water supply.

Plans have been floated, no pun intended, to bring water to the Southwest from Canadian glaciers and the Mississippi River.  Desalination of sea water is feasible but the high cost and long lead time of such projects, and the problem of what to do with the brine, keeps them bottled up.  Former Governor Jan Brewer proposed trading CAP shares for water piped in from not-yet-built desalination plants in California or Mexico, but her budget cuts killed a new  Water Institute, a three-university effort at long-range planning.

The Santa Cruz River ran until the 1940s when agricultural use drew down the water table.  Post-World War 2 population and building booms further depleted water supplies.  The one bright spot locally is that ground water in the Avra Valley is actually rising due to recharge from wastewater plants and Tucson’s allotment of CAP water being pumped to valley settling ponds.  Shrinking snow packs in the Rockies and reduced river flow threaten that.

It’s not really about growth versus no-growth, as the governor suggests.  It’s more about what amount of growth is sustainable in a desert with shrinking water supplies.  There used to be enough for tens of thousands of ancient peoples in the Tucson and Phoenix areas who built elaborate canal systems and constructed terraces on mountains to capture monsoon downpours and create farmland.  After thousands of years the drought-stricken Huhugam had to change course.  Huhugam, that O’odham word for their ancestors, means “all used up.”








17 Comments on "Comments From The Chemo Couch: 11 – The War For Water, Then And Now"

  1. So why did you move here?

  2. Sustainability is the term coined by ‘environmentalists’ for communism and it’s certainly not surprising it’s being used by this vocal propagandist.

    Sustainability = no growth, no progress, no betterment of life utilizing the abundant resources of this God Given Earth. Back to the Cave Whitey, no fire for you!

  3. think I’ll go have a nice cool glass of water, wash my car and water the Chilies before you guys use it all up

  4. The mining companies use and waste the most water in our State then comes the big cities where everyone has to have a grass yard with plants that soak up water. Not counting the swimming pools. Don’t destroy or try to change it so it’s where you came from.

    • That’s about as ignorant of comment concerning water that can be made. Where do you think the water that is used goes? Do you think recharge to the aquifer only occurs when the government does it? Ever heard of rain? Gravity? Do you have any clue that the largest fresh water aquifer resides under a barren desert?

      • I take it you don’t know much about our State let alone the aquifers that run below it. Most of that water comes from other States running south under it, and from rivers and lakes. It can take more than ten years to filter down into it just from a sitting lake. Peabody coal uses more water from one than all the people in this State, and has dropped the level by more than a third. That is just one. Today they pump water into some of the aquiters to bring the level up. Do to the type of soil/land we have most of the water runs across the ground/land, and what we have are flash floods runs in so many areas hit by them. I was born here as my family dating back to before 1 AD, and still live off this land. I know it very well.

        • I know a lot about it. And how long your family has lived here doesn’t make you any more knowledgeable about it.

          For instance, did you know that the groundwater act passed in Arizona 100% ignores the water we have in aquifers and the natural recharge?

          Just because a mine uses more than people has nothing to do with demand and supply of water, it only your exhibits your hate for mines. Agriculture is the biggest user of water in the State. Maybe we should shut down all the farms.

          What does the amount of time to recharge have to do with anything? Do you think nothing is in process of that 10 years? Do you still believe oil was created from the dinosaurs and since there’s no more dinosaurs there is no more oil being created?

          Here’s a challenge for you, please tell us how much water is in the aquifers in southern Arizona and how much recharges from watershed each year.

          And you seem to have bought in to the LIE from the Commie Couch that the river flow and volume of water stored in the lakes will not be replenished. Oh, no. How will you scare of economic prosperity and growth now?

          “Big snowstorms put Colorado River drought plan on ice”

          “But the snowy winter appears to mean that the river and lake will be flush enough this year to significantly reduce the odds of short-term water cuts even without a conservation plan.”

        • 1 AD, is that “Arizona Day”?


          The Department’s Groundwater Site Inventory (GWSI) database, the main repository for statewide groundwater well data, is available on the Department’s website ( The GWSI database consists of over 42,000 records of wells and over 210,000 groundwater level records statewide. GWSI contains spatial and geographical data, owner information, well construction and well log data and historic groundwater data including water level, water quality, well lift and pumpage records. Included are hydrographs for statewide index wells and automated groundwater monitoring sites, which can be searched and downloaded to access local information for planning, drought mitigation and other purposes. Approximately 1,700 wells are designated as index wells statewide out of over 43,700 GWSI sites. (GWSI sites are primarily well sites but include other types of sites such as springs and drains). Typically, index wells are visited once each year by the Department’s field staff to obtain a long-term record of groundwater level fluctuations. Approximately 200 of the GWSI sites are designated as automated wells. These systems measure water levels four times daily and store the data electronically. Automated groundwater monitoring sites are established to better understand the water supply situation in areas of the state where data are lacking. These devices are located based on areas of growth, subsidence, type of land use, proximity to river/stream channels, proximity to water contamination sites or areas affected by drought.

          Volume 1 of the Atlas shows the location of index wells and automatic water-level recording sites as of January 2009. At that time there were a total of 94 index wells and four ADWR automatic water-level sites in the Eastern Plateau Planning Area. The automated sites are located at Flagstaff, Joseph City, east of Holbrook and south of Saint Johns. The most updated maps may be viewed at the Department’s website.

          Information on major aquifers, well yields, estimated natural recharge, estimated water in storage, aquifer flow direction, and water level changes are found in the groundwater data table, groundwater conditions map, hydrographs and well yield map are found in Section 2.1.5-Groundwater Conditions

          It just keeps going on the subject.

      • Just so you know those facts can be found on the ADWR at anytime. How mining have nothing to do with demand and supply of water when just one uses more than all the people in our State? I know alot about it because we have been fighting for water right in court for the last 80 years, and just was granted them in part. As for mining operations I’m all for it as long as they put funds up front to restore, and clean up after they are done. That they pay for their own water, elect. and so on at the same price we do, and are not allowed to sell the ore before the mining operation is even approved.

        • No, that info is not on the site. I challenged you because the inventory of the aquifer and the rate of replenishment is not documented anywhere. I contend that is intentional.

          All you’re talking is politics. You have no facts. If there is 1000 gallons of water, 1 gallon used by man and 100 used by the mine, who cares?

          Tucson’s liberal guilt of using water is a primary reason why we’re the 5th poorest in the country.

        • Did you read what you posted?

          First of all – that is ONLY the Lakeside/Pinetop zone.

          Estimated amount 500,000,000 acre feet – that would be 500 MILLION acre feet.

          Total – TOTAL of the ENTIRE STATE usage 7 million acre feet. That is 71 years of supply without one drop from CAP and totally ignoring every other basin in Arizona. So if there were absolutely no other aquifers (the wells in Tucson prove otherwise), there is not one drop of rain, not one inch of snowfall, not one drop of replenishment into that one aquifer, we have 71 years of supply.

          Thanks for the links!

          Sounds like those sitting on the Commie Couch have your number.

  5. “Shrinking snow packs in the Rockies and reduced river flow threaten that.”

    Either you failed to do your research or you are intentionally deceiving. Record snowpack, Mead and Powell will be filled to the tippy top.

  6. Mr. 1 AD I would suggest your knowing of underground acquirers is as good a guess as anyone else – even the experts aren’t sure of how much – sort of where but by no means absolute

  7. Jerome R Petruk | November 26, 2017 at 2:56 pm |

    What a bunch of silliness. Both of you (Mike and Billy) miss the point. Cities use relatively low amounts of water. Even this article cites that Tucson is actually positively recharging ground water and Phoenix is very close to doing so. Mines use more, but they are a dying industry in high cost North America. The big water user? Agriculture! California is by far the biggest culprit. AZ a distant second. Colorado and Nevada have no agriculture to speak of. Easy answer. Cut back high cost North American agriculture – especially meat. There are plenty of better watered places in the world to handle that. Hell, eat more chicken and pork. The U.S. south feeds the world with meat of these 2 animals! (Oh, but for a good steak!)

  8. “Estimates of total groundwater in the state range as high as 900 million acre-feet”

    Arizona’s TOTAL annual usage is approximately 7 million acre feet.

    125 year supply without one drop of rain, one inch of snow, ZERO Colorado River water and absolutely no recharge of aquifer from subterranean sources.

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