We’ll be honest.
A few years back a candidate for local office warned that efforts to recharge the San Pedro River were a fraud. That the millions being spent on infrastructure to capture storm water and community efforts aimed at water conservation were part of a hidden agenda. In the end, he argued, Tucson and Phoenix would swoop in and take the resource to feed the continuing expansion in those communities.
We thought he was crazy.
Now, we’re not so sure. A plan to transfer water rights currently held by farms in LaPaz County to the Town of Queen Creek, a rapidly-growing community on the outskirts of Phoenix, portends something similar to the former candidate’s forecast.
Queen Creek is about 192 miles from Parker, AZ, the capital of LaPaz County, about the same distance as Sierra Vista to Phoenix. Since the 2010 census, Queen Creek’s population has increased 60 percent and now tops the 50,000 mark.
The elegant suburb boasts big homes, lots of parks and public amenities, and a median household income of $92,917, which is 52 percent higher than Parker. If you’re poor in Queen Creek, you are in the minority. The poverty rate is 7.89 percent, compared to that of Parker, where almost one in every five residents fit the federal definition of “poor.”
With those differences in mind, Queen Creek is hoping it can acquire farmland and the accompanying water rights to feed its voracious development appetite and keep growing its commercial and residential footprint. The town is working with a Phoenix real estate company that owns the land located along the Colorado River and is intending to sell its water rights for about $20 million.
We can see something similar happening here. There are already fears that the “mega-farm” operation in the Kansas Settlement area in eastern Cochise County is tapping the Sulphur Springs Valley aquifer dry. Residents in Sunsites, Pearce and other nearby communities have complained of their wells going dry and some have responded by increasing the depth of their well. As one farmer was quoted in a July, 2018 New York Times article, “… you either drill deeper or you don’t survive.”
All eyes are now on the Arizona Department of Water Resources to see whether the agency approves the water transfer from privately-held land in LaPaz County, to the community of Queen Creek.
If that happens, we can foresee a future of similar transactions happening in Cochise County to get at the aquifers in this corner of Arizona.
Without water, rural communities will dry up and blow away.