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Cultural Water Demand in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area - Agricultural Demand

Total cultural water demand for tribal, municipal, agricultural and industrial uses in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area averaged approximately 515,100 AFA in the period from 2001-2005. The agricultural demand sector is by far the largest water demand sector with over 440,000 acre-feet of demand (see Figure 3.0-16).  This is primarily due to agricultural demand in 4 basins Willcox, Safford, Duncan Valley and Douglas, which account for 410,600 acre-feet, or 95% of the agricultural demand. About one-fifth of the agricultural demand is met with surface water. 

Figure 3.0-16 Southeastern Arizona Planning Area Average Annual

Cultural Water Demand by sector, 2001-2005

Cultural Water Demand

Figure 3.0-18 Average agricultural water demand by groundwater basin in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area, 2001-2005

Agriculltural Water Use

Agriculture is the largest water demand sector and an important segment of the economy in the planning area, particularly in the SaffordWillcox, Douglas and Duncan Valley basins (Figure 3.0-18).  Relatively recent declines in irrigated acreage have occurred in some planning area basins, including the Lower San Pedro Basin due in part to land conservation efforts, and in the Upper San Pedro Basin due to the establishment of the SPRNCA, conservation easements, urbanization and economic factors.

Conditions of the GRIC Water Rights Settlement affect agricultural water use in the Duncan Valley and Safford Basins. Several provisions of the Upper Valley Districts (UVD) Agreement affect upper valley irrigators in several basins (and including those in New Mexico) and could potentially impact flows in the Gila River (ADWR, 2006).

Historic and recent agricultural demand is shown in Table 3.0-12. While demand has diminished in several basins, demand has expanded in the Willcox and Douglas basins over the last 15 years, and overall, demand has increased.  In the Safford and Duncan Valley Basins, agricultural water demand has decreased since 1991, and the proportion of surface water available for use

appears to have declined due to drought, leading to increased well pumpage in both basins. In the Willcox Basin, agricultural demand has declined significantly from the early 1970s when over 300,000 AFA was used.  However, demand is now increasing. In 2007 the USGS conducted agricultural surveys of some of the basins in the planning area. Information on the number of active irrigated acres, percentage of crop grown and irrigation method is summarized in Table 3.0-13.  As shown, crop type and irrigation method varies significantly between basins.  Following is a brief description of agricultural areas, which are listed generally in descending order of water demand.

Willcox Basin

There is significant irrigation throughout the Sulphur Springs Valley in the Willcox Basin.  North of the Town of Willcox, extensive orchards of apples and other fruits including U-pick orchards and vegetable farms exist.  One of Arizona’s few hydroponic tomato nurseries, Eurofresh Farms, a large, year-round producer of greenhouse tomatoes, is located in the northern part of the basin (AZDA, 2005). South of the Town of Willcox, irrigation is principally for alfalfa and corn. As in the Douglas Basin, groundwater withdrawals for agricultural irrigation in the Willcox Basin have resulted in large declines in groundwater levels.  These groundwater level declines may have caused land subsidence and surface fissures south of the Town of Willcox (USGS, 2006b).  Approximately 50,600 acres are currently irrigated, with an annual average of about 167,000 acre-feet of groundwater demand during the period 2001-2005. The crop mix is relatively diversified as shown in Table 3.0-13.

Safford Basin

In the Safford Basin, agricultural irrigation occurs along the Gila River where cotton and wheat are the predominant crops and in the San Simon Valley in the southern part of the basin where predominant crops include cotton, alfalfa, corn and nut orchards. The Gila Valley Irrigation District (GVID), incorporated in 1923, encompasses about 35,500 acres along the Gila River from the San Carlos Apache Reservation boundary to about 12 miles east of Safford. There are ten canal companies within the GVID that deliver water to farmers who also irrigate using privately owned wells. Surface water use in the Safford area is pursuant to the Gila River Decree (Globe Equity No. 59 Decree) and when surface water is limited it is allocated to downstream users and not available for irrigation in the area.  During the period of 2001-2005, an average of 120,400 acre-feet of groundwater and 61,300 acre-feet of surface water were used annually in the Safford Basin.  In 2007 the USGS found 28,300 active irrigated acres in the basin. As shown in Table 3.0-13, cotton is by far the predominant crop and almost all agricultural lands are flood irrigated.


Table 3.0-12 Average Annual Agricultural Demand in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area








Aravaipa Canyon      
Surface Water <1,000 <1,000 <1,000
Groundwater <1,000 <1,000 <1,000
Total 1,000 1,000 1,000
Cienega Creek      
Groundwater 500 500 500
Groundwater 32,800 37,100 47,300
Duncan Valley      
Surface Water 21,500 18,500 9,900
Groundwater 5,900 8,300 10,000
Total 27,400 26,800 19,900
Lower San Pedro      
Surface Water <1,000 <1,000 <1,000
Groundwater 12,800 11,100 7,500
Total 13,300 11,600 8,000
Surface Water 117,000 99,500 61,300
Groundwater 86,000 91,500 120,400
Total 203,000 191,000 181,700
Upper San Pedro      
Surface Water 4,300 4,300 4,300
Groundwater 16,500 15,100 9,900
Total 20,800 19,400 14,200
Groundwater 123,600 123,600 167,400
Total 422,400 411,000 440,000

Notes:  Volume <1,000 acre-feet assumed to be 500

acre-feet for computation purposes.


Alfalfa field in Douglas Basin

Alfalfa Field in the Douglas Basin.  Most of the Douglas Basin was designated as an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area in 1980.

Douglas Basin

Most of the Douglas Basin was designated as an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area (INA) in 1980 and as a result, agricultural irrigation is restricted to lands that were irrigated during the five-year period preceding designation.  A requirement within an INA is that groundwater withdrawals for irrigation on more than ten acres must be measured and annually reported to the Department.  These reports indicate that from 1984 to 2000, annual groundwater withdrawals fluctuated between about 30,000 AFA to about 45,000 AFA. However, demand is increasing with an annual average of 47,300 acre-feet withdrawn during the period 2001-2005.  Groundwater withdrawals for agricultural irrigation have resulted in significant declines in groundwater levels and a large cone of depression has formed in the northern part of the basin (USGS, 2006b). Irrigated acreage is located primarily in the central and northern part of the basin in the Sulfur Springs Valley. Currently, approximately 13,150 acres of predominantly corn and alfalfa are being irrigated.  Center-pivot irrigation is the main irrigation method in the basin (Table 3.0-13).

Duncan Valley Basin

Duncan Valley Basin agricultural irrigation is located southeast of the Town of Duncan in the Duncan Valley and northwest of Duncan in the York Valley area. Principal crops include alfalfa, cotton, corn and wheat and there is some commercial vegetable production.  The Franklin Irrigation District, also known as the Duncan Valley Irrigation District, serves farmers in the Duncan Valley. The district boundaries extend into New Mexico and irrigation wells in Arizona and New Mexico are used to irrigate lands in both states (Upper Gila Watershed Partnership, 2004).  The District was formed in 1922 and encompasses about 4,700 acres of Gila River bottom land. Surface water rights for use within this district are also specified in the Gila River Decree (ADWR, 1998).  An average of 10,000 acre-feet of groundwater and 9,900 acre-feet of surface water were used annually during the period 2001-2005.  The USGS found 3,450 irrigated acres in 2007 of predominantly pasture and sorghum, almost all flood irrigated (Table 3.0-13).

Upper San Pedro Basin

Almost all the remaining agriculture is in the Benson area in the Upper San Pedro Basin.  In 2002, there were an estimated 2,200 acres in the Benson area and 800 acres in the Palominas area  were under irrigation with a demand of about 9,900 acre-feet of groundwater and 4,300 acre feet of surface water. In 2006, approximately 500 acres of irrigation in the Palominas area were taken out of production.  When the USGS surveyed the basin in 2007, they found only 1,000 acres being actively irrigated. Pasture was by far the predominant crop grown with smaller amounts of orchard, grapes and corn. Flood irrigation is the predominant irrigation method with drip irrigation of grapes and pecans observed.

Discontinued agriculture

Discontinued agriculture in the Palominas area.

Two irrigation providers in the Benson area delivered surface water from the San Pedro River: the Saint David Irrigation District (SDID) and the Pomerene Water Users Association (PWUA). Approximately 39% of the irrigated lands in the Benson area were served by one of these two districts in 2005.  When insufficient surface water is available, SDID delivers groundwater pumped from two district wells (ADWR, 2005a).  The PWUA diversion structure suffered repeated damage over the years from flooding and significant repairs were last preformed in 2003. Subsequent flooding damaged the diversion gate and eroded the banks. Diversions and canal maintenance have since ceased.  The Arizona Corporation Commission administratively dissolved the PWUA in 2005 for failure to file an annual report.   The PWUA did not operate groundwater wells to supplement the surface water supply although members used the canal system to deliver their own pumped water to their fields. It is not known if this is still the case.


Vineyards in the Cienega Creek Basin

Cienega Creek Basin vineyards

Lower San Pedro Basin

Agricultural demand in the Lower San Pedro Basin averaged about 8,500 AFA during the period 2001-2005.  Irrigated acreage is located along the San Pedro River throughout the length of the basin but primarily in the northern and southern portions. The USGS estimated that approximately 600 acres were irrigated in 2007.  Groundwater is the primary water supply for irrigation. Surface water diversions from the San Pedro River account for less than 1,000 AFA of the total water supply.  In 2007, approximately 600 acres of primarily pasture and cotton were irrigated. A variety of irrigation methods are used including the highest percentage of drip irrigation in the planning area (Table 3.0-13).

Cienega Creek Basin

Irrigation in the Cienega Creek basin is limited but expanding and is largely vineyards under drip irrigation. These lands are located east of Sonoita in the Elgin area. Based on an informal survey conducted in 2008, it is estimated that between 200 and 300 acres are under cultivation.


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