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Devastated by drought: Arizona farmers impacted by water cutbacks hold their last hope on a plentiful monsoon

Updated: May. 27, 2021 at 10:36 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Most of Arizona entered a drought in 2000 and it persists today. It’s being called a megadrought and it could be the worst in a thousand years.

The monsoon in 2020 was one of the worst on record and while it’s hard to predict, 2021 could be better but maybe just a bit better. Or worse.

For the first time ever, the Central Arizona Project is likely to curtail water deliveries next year. While most urban dwellers won’t notice the cutbacks, the agriculture industry will notice. Farmers are the first to be cut back.

But for some farmers, the Central Arizona Project cuts will not be the first cuts. Mother Nature has already interceded.

Many farmers who rely on irrigation from San Carlos Lake behind the Coolidge Dam 90 miles away, were sent this letter telling them not to expect any water delivery after April 1, 2021.

Those farmers must rely on Mother Nature but that’s likely a hit or miss. A miss will be devastating to some farmers like Nancy Caywood.

“My granddad bought the farm in 1930 and we recall him talking about drought maybe for a year or two,” she said. “But it wasn’t like a megadrought that we’re experiencing now.”

The farm, located just East of Casa Grande, has grown cotton for nearly 90 years but those days are gone for the time being. They plant alfalfa for cattle feed now because they get several cuttings a year rather than just the one for cotton. It was an economic decision to try to save the farm.

Even though they will not be getting any water from the San Carlos District, they still have to pay for it under an agreement reached decades ago.

“We have to pay for 2 acre feet of water whether we receive it or not,” Caywood said. “Supposedly for maintenance on the canal and repay the cost of building the dam back in 1928.”

The cost of the water is added to their taxes and adds up to about $22,000 a year. If they can’t pay?

“We lose the farm,” she said.

“We’ve never seen it this dry,” she said. “There is no rain in our future.”

Most models suggest the 2021 monsoon won’t be as dry as last year but that’s only a prediction but it does give the family some hope.

“In my heart, I just believe this summer we’re going to see rain which will put a little water in our dam,” Caywood said. “Maybe our weather cycle will change.”

This year, in order to pay the taxes and water, the family leased land nearby to grow corn. That land is irrigated by CAP water which the family farm can’t access.

They have a contract for the corn which will pay the bills but leaves nothing left over for other expenses.

And now, with the CAP water likely being cut next year, that leaves another question mark for the future.

“We see the taxes being paid in 2021 but we don’t know what will happen in 2022,” she said. “We don’t know if we’ll have water.”

Many farmers in Pinal County have already made their decisions and have sold to corporations who are used the land to install large solar farms.

The family has been offered the same deal but has decided to try to hang on.

“We’re just no ready to part with it,” she said. “This is my home, farming is in our blood since the early 1900′s and we want to keep farming.”

But it may not be their decision to make if rains don’t come this year.

Caywood’s father passed away in January and left the farm to her. She wants to pass it on to her son and grandkids but she’s not sure if that’s going to happen, she said.

“If it starts to rain, we’re in, we’re in and we’re going to keep farming until we get desperate,” she said. “We’re not desperate yet.”

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