The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Arizona Water Crisis

Feb 14, 2022

It costs $500,000 to drill a well deep enough to tap groundwater in Cochise County, Arizona. Wells at 25 feet, that used to supply households, are dry. Only the largest of the agribusiness farms can afford to drill down past 1,000 feet to tap the groundwater in the failing, drying aquifer.

The drought and drying conditions are no news in southern Arizona. Phoenix, 100 miles from Cochise County, gets its water not only from the aquifer, but also from a 336-mile canal tapping the Colorado River.

Unfortunately for Phoenix, and for all those who don’t have half a million dollars to drill a new well, the Colorado River is also running dry. The river’s managers have decreed a 20-percent cut in Arizona’s share of the river’s water for 2022. Nevada’s share will be cut 7%, and Mexico’s cut 5%. California has senior rights, under a 100-year-old-law, and will not be cut back.

Yes, the Colorado River water is so precious, that four states plus Mexico have fought over access to it for over 100 years. A web of “allotments” now exists. Agriculture, industry, and real estate builders are all supposed to certify that new developments have “an assured water supply” for 100 years! Of course, promises are easy to make. But once the sale is complete, who will make sure the promises are kept? As an executive of the Arizona Cattle Growers Association said, “We don’t think wells should be metered at all.” Agribusiness and developers’ interests dominate the legislature. Loopholes in the original law have been provided for them, notably in 1993, when the 1,000-foot well was classed as an “assured supply.”

Meanwhile, the Colorado River reservoirs of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which supply south Arizona and also help to replenish the aquifers, are extremely low. Climate change has produced a 22-year mega-drought. It has reduced the winter snowfall that used to fill reservoirs in the spring. Experts speak of the day when the lakes will reach “dead pool” levels—too low to feed the canal pipes. The possibility is real enough to force this year’s allotment cutbacks.

Nor is this a recent emergency. Since the system was created, and agribusiness crowded into the area for its cheap land, more and more water diversion has dried the river. The river’s delta and outlet to the Gulf of California, in Mexico, has been almost entirely dry since 1963. No Colorado River water flows to the sea. The warning was always there.

But the promises went on. Just last year, a major chip manufacturer committed to building a $12-billion-dollar chip manufacturing plant near Phoenix. Chip-making takes a lot of water, 4.7 million gallons per day. How many more residential wells will go dry to feed this plant?

Big agribusinesses, owning thousands of acres, are there for the money. The land is worthless until it is irrigated. The big farms take the water and turn it into money, just as the big real estate developers do with industries and subdivisions. When there is no more water, no more money to be made, the businesses will simply move on, moving their money to wherever they find the next money spring. It’s the population that will be left high and dry.