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Cultural Water Demand in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area - Summary and Tribal 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 3.0-17 Cultural Water Demand by Basin in the Southeastern Arizona Planning Area

Click to view Figure 3.0-17

The volume of municipal water demand and industrial water demand is similar.  Municipal demand was approximately 40,500 AFA of primarily groundwater demand during the period from 2001-2005. Only about 1,200 acre-feet of surface water was reported for municipal purposes. Industrial demand, primarily from mining, is about 34,600 AFA.  Of this, about 1,100 acre-feet of surface water is used.  The demand sector composition varies substantially from basin to basin as shown in the basin cultural demand tables.  For example, there is no agricultural irrigation in six of the basins and total demand ranges from less than 300 acre-feet in several basins to almost 205,000 acre feet per year in the Safford Basin. (See Figure 3.0-17)

Provisions of the Arizona Water Rights Settlement Act of 2004 have implications for water use in the planning area.  Under Title II of the Act, Congress authorized a 2003 Settlement Agreement concerning the Gila River Indian Community’s (GRIC) water rights.  The 2003 Settlement Agreement was amended to conform to the Settlement Act and becomes enforceable on or before December 31, 2007. The Settlement Agreement established an Upper Gila River Watershed Maintenance Program that was incorporated into state law in 2005 (H.B. 2728).  The program defines a Gila River Maintenance Area that covers much of the planning area except for the Willcox, Douglas and San Bernardino Valley Basins and portions of other basins in Cochise County.  There are certain restrictions within the area, subject to specific exemptions, including construction of new dams or enlargement of existing dams and irrigation of land is prohibited unless the land was previously irrigated between January 1, 2000 and August 12, 2005.  (ADWR, 2006)

The settlement agreement also established “Safe Harbor” areas within which the Gila River Indian Community, the San Carlos Irrigation and Drainage District and the United States “agree not to exercise their rights to challenge, object to or call certain water users based on their normal flow rights and stored water rights under the Globe Equity Decree”. The Safe Harbor provisions establish three Impact Zones with specific conditions for each.  The impact zones are: 1) the San Pedro Ag and New Large Industrial Use Impact Zone, 2) the San Pedro M&I and Domestic Purposes Impact Zone, and 3) the Gila River Impact Zone.  These zones are in proximity of the Gila and San Pedro Rivers and include named tributaries.  For information on these provisions, refer to the Settlement Agreement and to the Technical Assessment of the Gila River Indian Community Water Rights Settlement. (ADWR, 2006)

Tribal Water Demand

Detailed current information on San Carlos Apache Tribe water demand was not available to the Department.  The reservation population  in the planning area is approximately 8,300, primarily residing in the communities of San Carlos/Peridot and Bylas/Calva.  There is a golf course, hotel and casino complex (Apache Gold) west of the community of San Carlos.  Principal economic activities on the reservation include cattle ranching, forestry, recreation, and gemstone mining (San Carlos Apache Nation, 2006).  Farming has historically been important.  Total cultural use in the Gila River drainage portion of the reservation was estimated at 4,120 acre-feet in a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) report from the early 1970s (BIA, 1974).  With population increases since the BIA estimate, construction of the casino complex, and assuming that agricultural, livestock and industrial uses have remained constant, it is estimated that current demand is approximately 5,300 AFA.

Talkalai Lake

Talkalai Lake on the San Carlos Apache Reservation.  It is estimated that current tribal demand is 5,300 acre-feet per year

Municipal demand on the Reservation is assumed to be relatively small. Community water systems serve the San Carlos-Peridot community and Bylas-Calva, all in the Safford Basin (BIA, 1974).  Based on population, a reasonable municipal demand estimate is 1,000 to 1,250 AFA.

According to a CLIMAS report, several hundred acres of hay irrigation are occurring on the San Carlos Apache Reservation and the tribe has plans for expansion. Farming has been a culturally important activity and was economically important during the early years of the reservation (CLIMAS, 2004).  A BIA study (1974), reported that 1,900 acres were historically irrigated although flooding and inundation of lands by filling of the San Carlos Reservoir reduced the amount of irrigable acres. Most of the irrigable acreage was located along the San Carlos and Gila Rivers and was irrigated with surface water, supplemented with well water (Bookman-Edmonston Engineering, Inc., 1979). The Gila Commissioner 2007 Annual Report showed 225 acres planted (Allred, 2007). In October 2008, Department staff observed two cotton fields along the San Carlos River between San Carlos and Highway 70.


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