Arizona endorses plan to sell Colorado River water to suburb

A typically busy downtown Phoenix Wednesday, April 1, 2020 is mostly idle during the first full day of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. Gov. Ducey is urging Arizonans to be understanding and reasonable as people and businesses face April 1 due dates for bills such as mortgages, rent, utilities and internet service since the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has slowed the economy. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death. (AP Photo/Matt York)

The Arizona Department of Water Resources endorsed a company’s proposal to sell water from farmland near the Colorado River to a a fast-growing Phoenix suburb despite complaints of possible negative effects for communities along the river.

The state agency recommended approval of the water sale by GSC Farm LLC to the Queen Creek suburb, The Arizona Republic reported Saturday.

GSC Farm sought state approval last year to permanently leave three quarters of a square mile (1.94 square kilometers) of farmland dry and sell its annual entitlement of about 678 million gallons (2.56 billion litres) to Queen Creek for a one-time payment of $21 million.

The plan, which requires federal approval, has generated debate about whether transferring water away from Cibola could harm the economy of the farming community about 175 miles (282 kilometers) west of Phoenix near the California border.

Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke approved the sale, but he recommended allowing the transfer of a little more than half the proposed amount.

Buschatzke said his department had to weigh factors including “the beneficial use of the water after the transfer and any potential impacts on the western Arizona communities who rely on the Colorado River.”

The department held a series of meetings to get public input on the proposed deal, which generated 872 written comments including 854 in opposition.

Town leaders in Queen Creek said the deal would reduce their reliance on groundwater and improve long-term water supplies to help support growth.

Republican state Rep. Regina Cobb, who represents Cibola and other communities near the Colorado River, said her constituents are concerned the water transfer clears the way for more deals in which farmland is bought and water is sold, causing economic harm.

“The biggest fear is that we are transferring wealth from one area to another,” Cobb said. “And it’s not just affecting that one small area of Cibola. It is affecting everybody downstream below that.”

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.