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Our Water Crisis: Why Did Arizona Give Up Its Water Rights?

May 18, 2018

There is an article at least once a week recently about our impending water crisis and the fact that we may have to yield to California when Lake Mead gets a little lower. This is because we gave up our higher priority of water rights to build the Central Arizona Project (CAP), an idea whose economics never made sense. The CAP was, of course, politically popular, because who could deny the often-stated allegation that “we live in a desert and we need more water.” Based on that idea, our politicians bargained away our rights to a higher priority for water from the Colorado River.

Was there another option? Was there another voice? Yes. Frank Welsh (recently deceased), a lawyer and professional engineer, formed an organization in the early 1970s called Citizens Concerned About the Project (CCAP). I was one of his board members. One mission was to stop the planned Orme Dam which was to provide storage for CAP water, resulting in huge losses through evaporation and flooding the Ft McDowell Indian Reservation. We succeeded at that cause but failed at the larger battle. We frequently touted the lack of economic sanity of the whole multibillion-dollar CAP. Besides the gigantic cost of the construction, we also cited the waste of water through evaporation by transporting water across hundreds of miles of desert. We suggested such obvious alternatives as using our water allocation along the Colorado River or selling our rights to California. At the same time, we pointed out that Phoenix sits on a large amount of ground water that could support many millions more people, albeit with the sacrifice of agriculture.

The reason I mention this now because we should be wary of the long-term effects of huge government projects, no matter how wonderful they sound.

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