More water cuts could hit farmers in Yuma, threatening leafy greens supply

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YUMA, AR (3TV/CBS 5) – Could the lettuce you see on store shelves, not just in Arizona, but across the country, be getting harder and harder to find? This is likely to be the case with ongoing water issues and potential water cuts in Yuma. It all comes down to whether a deal is struck and what that deal looks like.

Water cuts made by the Bureau of Reclamation to the Colorado River that will affect farmers in Pinal County will not affect farmers in Yuma. Still, the bureau said there must be millions more water cuts, and farmers in Yuma could bear the brunt.

The big problem: Yuma supplies 90% of the country’s leafy greens like lettuce and spinach during the winter months, and now that could be in jeopardy.

Anyone who is driven from the desert valley to the beaches of San Diego passes through the expanse of farmland along Interstate 8: Yuma, Arizona. “It’s a climate that’s not really replicated anywhere else in the world in terms of how we can grow, how long we can grow and what we can grow,” said Chelsea McGuire, director of government relations with the ‘Arizona Farm Bureau.

Yuma is the largest supplier of produce like romaine lettuce, spinach, broccoli and onion seeds across the United States during the winter months, but that could change. “We may not see every aspect of the product counter full year-round,” McGuire said.

This month, the Bureau of Reclamation announced Colorado River water cuts to Arizona farms amid the drought. It didn’t affect Yuma Farms, but something else might. “That’s not where the office stopped. They said earlier before announcing Level 2A that we were going to need an additional 2-4 million acre feet to stay in the river to avoid an accident, a catastrophic situation,” McGuire said.

McGuire said farmers in Yuma have become experienced users of the river’s water to try to help. She said Yuma farms are considered “senior users” based on legal and political agreements made over the years, as well as the use of water from the river.

McGuire said Yuma farmers have come up with a plan for the Bureau of Reclamation — their farmers are willing to take one acre less foot of water per acre. That would total about 925,000 acre-feet of water cuts, a significant chunk but well below the 2-4 million number set by the bureau.

“They’ve come to the determination that this is all they can handle and stay in business and keep producing,” McGuire said.

So what do all these numbers mean to you at the grocery store? “The most fundamental consequence is that we’re going to see significant decreases in availability and significant increases in price,” McGuire said. “We can buy romaine lettuce any time of the year in stores, it’s grown in different places, but we can access it. This may no longer be the case. »

McGuire said that ultimately the Bureau of Reclamation can decide at any time how much more cuts it will take from Yuma farmers. She said backstage; it comes down to a lot of politics. While negotiations are ongoing between Yuma farmers, some California farmers and the bureau itself, there is no timeline for when this will all be figured out.

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