Experts: Yuma water rights secure, but vigilance needed
Yuma’s water rights are as secure as they can get, but locals should remain vigilant in view of the longstanding drought.
Two local water experts talked about Yuma’s water rights during the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce “Good Morning, Yuma!” breakfast Thursday. The speakers were Tom Davis, manager of Yuma County Water Users Association, and Wade Noble, a water rights attorney.
“Water is the hot topic in the Southwest,” Davis said, adding that it will also be the “hot topic” in the Arizona Legislature this year, causing them to spend a lot of time at the capital.
The older the rights, the more secure the rights, Davis noted. This is important as the drought continues.
Yuma, which is dependent on the Colorado River, has the most secure rights, he added. Yuma produces 85-90 percent of winter vegetables for U.S. and Canada.
Noble pointed out that Yuma is here because of the river; it’s what brought the first settlers, it’s why there are businesses here.
It’s what brings and keeps people in Yuma, Noble noted.
The YCWUA, which incorporated in 1903, has first out of six priority rights and can use as much water as possible. Does that mean water is wasted? No, Davis said. Farmers can only use so much water. Too much water will harm crops.
The Wellton Mohawk Irrigation District and Drainage District and the City of Yuma have third priority rights, which Noble called significant.”
He praised the farsighted city leaders who saw the need to make a deal.
While Yuma’s water rights are secure for the time being, if the drought reaches severe levels, those rights might be threatened.
California’s deal says that if there ever is a shortage, the Central Arizona Project, which has fourth priority rights, would be cut. But Phoenix is not likely to be cut, Noble noted.
The problem is that there is not enough water in the Colorado River to meet all the entitlements due to the 18-year drought. Current plans call for shortage thresholds that would trigger cuts.
The question is how far those cuts would go in case of severe shortages and if eventually they would reach Yuma. But if Yuma’s water rights are ever threatened, the case would be taken to court. And Wade said he and other stakeholders would continue fighting for water until the last drop.
Yuma has to have water. Not only is the economy completely dependent on it, this area is like no other area in the world. It feeds the U.S. and Canada during winter.
Davis asked attendees that if they have any contacts at the Legislature to let them know.
“We need to stick together,” Davis said.