Sep 27 2021Share

Cities Helping Farmers Impacted by Shortage

By AMWUA Staff

A Tier 1 Colorado River Shortage will happen in 2022, which will result in an estimated 30% reduction to Colorado River supplies delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties. The brunt of the Tier 1 Shortage reduction will impact Central Arizona agricultural users due to the longstanding priority system that governs who receives Colorado River water in times of shortage. Municipalities and tribes have the highest CAP priority and will continue to receive Colorado River water in 2022.

This loss of CAP water will have a hard impact, particularly on Pinal County, which has had a robust agriculture economy for years. Pinal County has known it would need to transition away from CAP water no later than 2030; however, it will start occurring eight years sooner due to the extreme drought on the Colorado River.

To help water users facing reductions during a Tier 1 Shortage, the Arizona DCP Implementation Plan was created in 2019 to provide alternate water supplies and funding to those impacted by the cuts, particularly agriculture in Pinal County. To mitigate the impact of these reductions, water users are provided alternative water supplies or funding. The alternative water supplies come from water previously stored underground and in Lake Mead. Due to Arizona's internal priority system, cutbacks to tribes and cities must be mitigated before agricultural users can receive resources. In addition to mitigation, other water users are being paid to conserve water they usually use. This helps boost the water levels in Lake Mead. Together these efforts highlight how the Arizona water community is prepared even in a time of prolonged drought.

In developing the Arizona DCP Implementation Plan, the City of Phoenix worked with other cities and entities to create a plan to deliver their own Colorado River water supplies to agricultural irrigation districts in Pinal County used for farming.  Specifically, this plan is known as the Underground Storage Facilities (USFs) to Groundwater Savings Facilities (GSFs) Program. The program works much like a savings account. The cities make "deposits" by giving water to farmers to use now in exchange for "credit" down the road to access groundwater. This program will ease some pressure on farmers due to the Colorado River reductions.

The agricultural irrigation districts will use the water provided by the cities and entities through the CAP to irrigate crops instead of using the district's local groundwater. The cities and entities earn long-term storage credits that go into a "savings account." Those credits will be stored in Pinal County. The Arizona Water Bank has agreed to exchange the credits earned in Pinal County for existing credits in Maricopa County that supplies cities and entities water. This innovative thinking allows farmers to have CAP water as they transition without straining cities and entities water needs for in the future. 

Two years ago, in anticipation of the Tier 1 shortage, here are the pledges that have been made to agriculture irrigation districts:

City Pledges Updated














The ability of the cities to assist and partner in this manner comes from years of planning and preparing, which has included building water conservation and efficiency into their long-term management strategies. Decades of conservation brings flexibility during times of drought and shortage, which will continue to be critical for ensuring our resiliency.

To print or save this week's blog, a PDF version is available HERE

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information, visit

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