PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Arizona cities, towns, farmers and ranchers are preparing for the first-ever cuts to the state's allotment of Colorado River water. The cuts are the result of a drought that's lasted 26 years and will likely take effect in 2022.
The so-called "Tier 1" water shortage will affect some water users more severely than others.
"Central Arizona agriculture is going to feel the impact, probably first," said Chris Udall, who is the executive director of Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona.
Farmers and ranchers in Pinal County are already preparing, but it's going to be a costly process. "The farmers down there are going to need to go back to pumping water. A lot of them are going to need funding to either rehabilitate wells, or to move wells so that their systems can operate on ground water versus surface water," said Udall.
Valley cities have higher-priority contracts with the Central Arizona Project (CAP), so any reductions to urban water users would be further down the road. "It won't affect Phoenix customers until at least 2025. We will see no reduction in supplies available to Phoenix customers," said Cynthia Campbell, who is Phoenix's water resource manager.
Campbell says the city of Phoenix gets about 40% of its drinking water from the CAP. But city residents have done a good job of conserving water, which may help get the city through the drought without any cuts.
"Over the past 20 years, the city of Phoenix has seen a reduction in actual water use by about 30%, even though we've increased our population by 400 thousand people," said Campbell.
One of the reasons cities like Phoenix are in better shape than other areas is that they get 60% of their drinking water from SRP, and SRP's reservoirs are in good shape. Despite the dry winter, the reservoirs along the Salt River stand at 74% of capacity.
"Last year at this time we were at 98%. So luckily, last year was a wet year that helped refill those reservoirs to get us through this dry stretch that we're seeing now," said Stephen Flora, who is a senior hydrologist at SRP.
Both Flora and Campbell say it's going to be more important than ever for residents to conserve. Easy steps include installing low-flow toilets and showerheads, as well as repairing leaky faucets, spigots and pipes.
That won't be enough to help the Central Arizona agriculture community. Right now, farmers and water managers like Chris Udall are trying to get funding for water infrastructure added to the massive federal infrastructure package making its way through Congress.
"It's once in a lifetime. We hope that everybody will push for water infrastructure. It's badly needed. It benefits everybody and it's a good return on investment," said Udall.