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Cochise farmers concerned over water regulations on ballot

Cochise farmers concerned over water regulations on ballot
Posted at 5:38 PM, Aug 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-31 20:40:56-04

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Burt Smith moved his farm from Washington to Southern Arizona two years ago. Like many farmers, he was enticed by Cochise County’s unregulated water usage. Smith and his wife raise animals on their farm and sell their meat at local farmer’s markets. They plan to later grow produce and open a petting zoo.

“Agri-tourism is what our plan is, we’ll have new buildings, farrowing barns, kidding barns,” Smith said.

This farm’s growth relies heavily on the Willcox groundwater basin.

“I only need 200-300 gallons a minute a couple times a week to irrigate my two acres of crops. I don’t need a lot of water but a domestic well pump will not work.”

Most of Cochise County’s farmers get their water from the Willcox and Douglas Basins. But both basins are in trouble from years of pulling out more water than is being put back in. The Arizona Department of Water Resources says groundwater levels in Willcox have been dropping up to seven feet a year. Many wells are going dry.

“There is a water problem here, and we need to be able to figure out how to solve that.”

There are two initiatives on the ballot that would turn those two water basins into Active Management Areas, also known as AMAs. The state’s Department of Water Resources could then regulate water usage in those areas. An AMA would also prevent irrigation of new acreage that hasn't used the basin in the last five years.

“We bought the property because it has two agricultural wells on it. They’re currently dormant.”

That means Smith wouldn't be allowed to use two of three wells on his property. He'd have to cancel any future plans for growth.

“What do we do here, if this AMA goes through do we scale back our plans, move our farm to a different state?”

It’s a hard question that many Cochise farmers are now asking themselves. The initiatives will show up on the ballot as Proposition 420 and 422. If you live in the Willcox and Douglas Basin Areas, you will be allowed to vote on these initiatives in November.

Perla Shaheen is a reporter for KGUN 9. Perla graduated in May 2020 from the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in Political Science. Share your story ideas and important issues with Perla by emailing or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.