State Pumps More Money into $30M Effort That Will Cut Ag Water Use, Fund Science

Aug. 22, 2023

The program, administered by University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, is on track to save farmers more water every year than 220,000 residential consumers would use.

Photo of pivot irrigation

Pivot irrigation systems like this one in Yuma, Arizona use less water that traditional flood irrigation, which pours water across cropland from irrigation ditches.

(TUCSON, Arizona) – University of Arizona Cooperative Extension got a boost recently in an effort that helps farmers switch to water-saving irrigation. 

The state Water Irrigation Efficiency Program, pays farmers or ranchers $1,500 per acre, up to $1 million per farm, to convert to more efficient watering systems. The program, administered by Extension, has already distributed $23.1 million of $30 million the state Legislature allocated last year. 

Photo of Ethan Orr

Ethan Orr

Now the state will pour another $15.2 million into the program next year, said Ethan Orr, Extension’s Associate Director for Agriculture and Natural Resources. 

The program is also funding university research, Orr said. 

“We have already approved about $1 million in research, primarily irrigation systems research on guayule. We designed a new nozzle for irrigation systems, currently undergoing the process of patenting, and are creating an econometric tool to help farmers make cropping decisions using satellite data to measure soil moisture,” he said. 

More than 60 enrolled farmers and ranchers have paid $15.7 million to match the $23.1 million that has been distributed. The $39 million irrigation conversion on more than 18,000 acres is projected to save 36,800 acre-feet of water per year – enough for more than 220,000 residential users, based on Arizona’s average of 146 gallons per person per day. 

To enroll in the program, farmers must show a projected 20 percent water savings over their current systems, many of which are designed to use flood irrigation. 

Cuts in agricultural use of Colorado River water left some Arizona crop land fallow, because without the pressure from the Colorado River water provides, farmers can’t use flood irrigation. The Water Irrigation Efficiency Program grants help them switch to other types of irrigation. 

The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, a $350 billion pool of federal funds approved in 2021 to help the nation recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. The irrigation program, allocated in 2022 under former Gov. Doug Ducey and awarded in February under Gov. Katie Hobbs, is part of Arizona’s $4 billion ARPA portion. The bipartisan effort has been championed in the Legislature by state Rep. Timothy M. Dunn (R) of Yuma, a farmer.  

The program fits squarely into Extension’s mission to help Arizona agriculture thrive, Orr said. 

Our team is excited to continue partnering with industry and agricultural experts to continue to find innovative ways to conserve Arizona's water,” he said.