KGUN 9NewsRunning Dry: Arizona's Groundwater Crisis


AZ's uneven groundwater for farmers: 'About 40 miles and a world of difference'

Posted at 8:54 PM, Feb 18, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-18 22:54:14-05

MARANA, Ariz. (KGUN) — Water is a precious resource for everyone in Arizona, but especially for farmers who manage land across the state.

Arnoldo Burruel handles roughly 4,800 acres of farmland.

“We have grown just anything you think you could try to make money on in Arizona,” he joked. He says he and his son work on his land. Their crops over the years have included corn, Bermuda grass and alfalfa.

Burruel’s land is split between Marana and Eloy.

“About 40 miles and a world of difference,” Burruel said, referring to the water situation. “If I’m talking with my Pima County neighbors, we feel lucky to be here."

But things dry up in Pinal County.

“It’s more along the lines of the famous quote: ‘Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over,’” he explained. “We’re fighting with federal government, Department of Water Resources, whoever’s regulating the water… ‘Give me as much as you can, because I need it to sustain my living.’”

Arizona farmers rely on groundwater, pumped from wells. Across most of the state, groundwater use is largely unregulated.

But around urban centers are “Active Management Areas” or AMA’s — basins where groundwater limits are imposed.

“A gradual ratcheting down of our water allotments has been dictated to us by the state,” Burruel explained. “Every five years or so we get a minuscule cutback.”

The goal is to balance what farmers need now with what growing cities will need down the road.

Burruel says the Tucson AMA is well-managed.

“We sit on top of a very strong, dependable aquifer,” he said. “It lets you sleep a little better at night.”

He adds that it is well-positioned compared to Pinal County.

“The Eloy basin does not recharge anymore like it used to, because the Santa Cruz River doesn’t dead end in Eloy any longer,“ said Burruel. “Water’s allotted a lot tighter up there… You have to pick and choose your crops. You have to pick and choose your land… Basically we can farm 40 percent of the district, successfully.”

With Arizona facing further Colorado River cuts, and agriculture near the bottom of the Central Arizona Project priority system, CAP water for farmers has dried up. Groundwater is essentially their only lifeline.

“We don’t want to kill the goose even though she’s not laying a golden egg anymore,” Burruel said of groundwater.

“We don’t want to kill the goose, we want to keep the goose alive,” he said. “And you can’t do that by over-pumping… Voluntarily, we’re even increasing our cutbacks. On top of losing the CAP water. We’re gonna do what’s good for the future. Future generations and the future of our industry.”

It’s a future that looks cloudy, and likely shaped by more cutbacks to come.

Ryan Fish is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9 and comes to the Sonoran Desert from California’s Central Coast after working as a reporter, sports anchor and weather forecaster in Santa Barbara. Ryan grew up in the Chicago suburbs, frequently visiting family in Tucson. Share your story ideas and important issues with Ryan by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.