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First-ever water restrictions on Colorado River Basin impacting farmers in the southwest

Posted at 6:25 PM, Aug 24, 2021

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — Nancy Caywood knows the value of holding on to what’s important to you. Her family’s farm is on its fifth generation.

“This is my grandad. He’s out working our family farm in the 1940s right here. He purchased the farm in 1930,” she said.

For 91 years, Nancy’s family has been farming land in Casa Grande, Arizona, about an hour south of Phoenix. So she’s seen some dry weather in her day.

“All of the west is in a serious drought,” said Caywood, “The lakes are decreasing in level, and they’ve all got the bathtub ring, and they’re very, very low right now, and so we just entered what we call tier one of water usage which means that agriculture is going to be cut back.”

The Bureau of Reclamation declared a water shortage in the Lower Colorado River Basin and announced level one restrictions, the first-ever.

"The basin is experiencing its 22nd year of drought, and earlier this summer, the reservoirs hit their lowest levels since they were originally filled," said Tonya Trujillo, the Asst. Secretary for Water and Science.

That means Arizona will face the largest cuts at an 18% reduction. Nevada will see a 7% reduction and Mexico 5%. Those numbers may not sound like a lot to the average person, but to farmers, every drop counts.

“In all honesty, we probably had about, trying to think, probably about 25 acres on this farm this year just because we didn’t have the water," said Paco Ollerton.

His farm is just down the road from Nancy’s. Uncertainty is starting to sink in for Paco for his farm and others.

“My guys are going to have less, my equipment dealer is going to have, you know people are being conservative about buying equipment, it’s going to affect all the suppliers and the inputs,” said Ollerton.

Caywood worries about her son Travis, who runs the farm now.

“Now I’ve just watched this just wear him down, and it’s sad as a parent to see this because I don’t think my grandfather ever experienced this level of drought. But this has been a year, after year, after year, it’s been going on, and to watch this just wear Travis down hurts, it just hurts. And you just want to say it’s going to be ok, but we don’t know,” said Caywood.

Telling the people we love that everything will be OK, you don’t have to be a farmer to know that feeling.

But it might take a farmer to find that glass half full optimism in the middle of a drought. Nancy’s got that too.

“I look out here, and I know that the alfalfa is here, and we can grow it. We just need water, right? And so you just have to look with optimism that we’re going to get water,” she said.