Arizona restricts farming to protect groundwater supply
The outskirts of Kingman, Arizona, used to be a place where pilots would train and recreationists tested their all-terrain vehicles.
The dry and empty landscape has since morphed into something much more green that supports pistachio and almond orchards, as well as garlic and potato fields, in a climate similar to California's Central Valley. The crops are fed by groundwater that also serves the city of Kingman.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources this week put a limit on the amount of land that can be watered, designating the Hualapai Valley as an irrigation non-expansion area. That means anyone who hasn't farmed more than 2 acres there during the past five years can't.
It's the first such designation in Arizona in four decades — highlighting struggles around the U.S. as water supplies dwindle and tensions grow between farmers and cities. Just last week, a board that advises the Kansas governor voted to make a historic recommendation to protect the Ogallala aquifer, which has been tapped for decades to irrigate crops in an arid region.
In Arizona, elected officials supported the designation, saying they want to ensure residents have access to affordable water in the future.
Some residents saw the designation as an assault on their private property rights, and farmers felt they were targeted as water guzzlers despite using what they say is the best available technology to conserve.
“It's really tricky," said Kathy Tackett-Hicks, a consultant for Peacock Nuts, LLC, which grows pistachio trees on roughly 5 square miles (13 square kilometers) in the valley. “No one is totally right, and no one is totally wrong.”