Bill would prohibit transfers of some Colorado River water to central Arizona

The All-American Canal, which was approved under the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928, connects the Colorado River to the fertile Coachella and Imperial valleys in Southern California. (Photo by Luke Runyon/KUNC/LightHawk)

PHOENIX – Some water tied to land along the Colorado River could not be transferred to central Arizona if the Legislature approves a bill proposed by a Kingman lawmaker.

The bill comes after recent proposals for just such a transfer of river water, which municipalities in western Arizona consider a threat to their ability to survive and expand. The moves come against a backdrop of dwindling water supplies in the vast Colorado River Basin and increased efforts to assert water rights along the overextended river, which serves 40 million people in the Southwest.

In November, GSC Farm proposed the sale of about 2,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water to Queen Creek from its holdings in La Paz County’s Cibola Valley. The water now is used to irrigate 485 acres of cropland. (An acre-foot is roughly what a family of four uses in one year.)

Queen Creek has said it would use the water to reduce its dependence on groundwater as its population grows.

GSC Farm has a federal contract for what’s called “fourth priority” water under the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928, which authorized construction of Hoover Dam, construction of the All-American Canal to connect the river to the Imperial and Coachella valleys in California, and divided river water among the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

GSC Farm is asking the state to endorse a transfer of that federal contract to Queen Creek. The U.S. Department of Interior has the final say, but a state endorsement is seen as important to the success of the transfer.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, says the holder of a fourth priority claim on water “may not transfer or otherwise convey that claim for use of that water to any location or use other than an agricultural, municipal, or industrial use in a Colorado River community.”

“Hopefully, at least, we get a hearing on this,” Cobb said in an interview this month. “I don’t know how it’s going to go down. As time goes on, we’ll see.”

At the first public comment hearing in November, Cobb was among critics who said such transfers are a death knell for communities along the river.

“They’re purchasing properties to try to get those waters transferred,” she said, according to the Arizona Republic. “So they’re making money off of us. They’re making money off of those communities that need that water. As soon as you start moving that water out of those communities, guess what’s going to happen? They’re going to dry up.”

A spokesperson for Greenstone, the Phoenix company that owns GSC Farm, declined to comment on the legislation.

The state Department of Water Resources did extend the public comment period, which closed Jan. 15, and the agency will make its recommendation to the Bureau of Reclamation by mid-March.