U.S. Water News Online
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Despite the rapid population growth in
Arizona, groundwater consumption has fallen in recent decades as
homes have replaced farms, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Groundwater pumping in Arizona fell 28 percent in the last 25
years of the 20th century, a 476 million gallon decline. In Maricopa
County, water consumption fell 14 percent from 1985 to 2000.
In the Southwest, where population soared 250 percent from 1950 to
2000, annual water use increased only 58 percent to 20.5 trillion
It may seem counterintuitive given the population growth, but
agriculture continues to consume most of the water in the Sun Belt.
As farms are replaced by development, less water is used.
The report released by USGS found that farms still used
four-fifths of the Southwest's water in 2000. But that was a decline
from 94 percent in 1950.
The amount of irrigated farmland in Maricopa County fell 40
percent in that time.
Jim Klinker, executive secretary of the Arizona Farm Bureau, said
he can see the difference when he looks out his office window in
"To my east is alfalfa and it's really green with all this rain,''
he said by phone. "I look out the other side of the building and it's
wall-to-wall stucco and tile.''
The decline of the farm business is inevitable, he said, despite
the move toward specialty crops for niche markets and other
"It's strange for the state's largest farm organization to be
talking about retiring itself out of existence, but you've got to
deal with reality,'' he said. "People are coming to live in Arizona
and we have a finite water supply.''
The state's farms still use more water per acre than those in
California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico, the study found.
Hydrologist Alice Konieczki, who worked on the study, said the
higher water use is probably the result of the arid climate, the long
growing season and the loss of water through unlined canals.
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