Arizona Water History – Marshaling Martial Law

Arizona’s history is colored by feuds and fights; the most famous being the OK Corral in Tombstone. One of the most protracted fights in Arizona history was with California over water allocations from the Colorado River.  Political leaders on both states fought bitterly over water rights for decades. Threats of fistfights and filibusters were written into the history of the Seventieth US Congress. Ultimately the water allocations issue was resolved in a Supreme Court battle which lasted over 11 years, included 340 witnesses, 50 lawyers and produced 25,000 pages of testimony – as well as one whimsical war story along the way.1

The rumbling started when Arizona refused to sign the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Arizona saw the compact as an aggressive push by California to secure river water at their expense. The compact divided the Colorado River into two basins, an upper and a lower one, with each basin allotted 7.5 million acre-feet of water annually. Arizona, California and Nevada were part of the lower basin while Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico were part of the upper basin. Under this scheme, Nevada would receive 300,000 acre-feet of water annually, Arizona 2.8 million acre-feet per year and California 4.4 million acre-feet per year. To Arizona, the inequity was obvious and they weren’t going to sign.

Politics being politics, a “legal” means of moving the project forward without Arizona’s consent was devised and the compact was signed into law by mid-1925. Throughout the three year delay, California had been feverishly working on moving forward with an All-American Canal to divert large portions of the Colorado River into the southern part of the state. Congress passed the “Boulder Canyon Project Act” which included provisions for the All-American Canal and the construction of Boulder Dam (later renamed Hoover Dam) on the Colorado River. The pot was being stirred and simmering.

Then California stepped over the proverbial line in the sand. They decided to build another dam, Parker Dam, on the Colorado River without asking Arizona for permission. Arizona’s fourth Governor Benjamin Moeur was boiling mad. He called on the Arizona National Guard to do some reconnaissance work.  Six soldiers were dispatched to Parker Arizona for observation and patrolled the dam construction site for several months.2

Moeur was “something of a stereotype” and “known for his short temper and profanity.”3 He was also very generous. Being a physician, he often offered “free medical consultations in the capital during his lunch hours. And he was known for writing off his patients’ medical debts every Christmas.”4 His generosity apparently had limits and one of them was California trying to take water away from Arizona.

His patience was tested in November 1934 when California decided to begin construction of a trestle bridge that would connect to Arizona.5 This action prompted Moeur to declare martial law and he dispatched 100 Arizona National Guard troops to block construction on Arizona’s land.6

He also started the first official Navy in landlocked Arizona when he authorized a ferryboat operator in Parker to transport the troops across the Colorado River.7 The Governor declared ferryboat owner and 17 year operator, Nellie Bush, as the Admiral of his new Navy. She would be in command of the ships.8

fa_1281_0334julieb1940
March 1934: The “Julia B.” Colorado River ferry during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the “Julia B.” was dubbed the flageship of the Arizona “Navy.” This photo was published in the March, 8, 1934 Los Angeles Times.

At one point, the troops got in a bit of a pickle when one of the ferryboats got snagged in the river during a nighttime reconnaissance mission and “construction workers from the enemy state of California had to rescue them.9 The press had a field day with the news of “enemies” helping out the Arizona troops.

Can you picture this scene? A woman Naval commander, unheard of at the time, asking hearty male construction workers for assistance in freeing their boat. I’m sure the scene went sort of this: “Excuse me gentlemen, we seem to be in a bit of a bind. Would you mind helping to free us from this snag. Thank you so much.” Can you imagine what the construction workers as well as the Arizona troops were thinking?

In spite of this whimsical incident, the ferryboat Navy and the National Guard troops meant business. Forty members of the new Navy rode on the riverboats while twenty machine gunners were stationed on the shoreline to prevent construction on “the sacred soil of old Arizona.”10

In the end, Arizona won the Parker Dam battle as U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, intervened and halted construction. A court case ensued and on April 29, 1935, the Supreme Court upheld Arizona’s right to object and interfere with the construction.11 Arizona felt vindicated and used this victory as a means to negotiate a deal to create its own irrigation system; the Gila River irrigation project.12 Parker Dam was completed three years later in 1938. The resulting Lake Havasu Reservoir now provides water to both southern California and to Arizona.

What happened to the infamous Admiral Nellie T. Bush? She became quite well known in Arizona. She was a justice of the peace in Parker, served in the state legislature and became a lawyer – passing the bar in both California and Arizona. She was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame in 1982.13

References:

  1. August, Jack L Jr. “Shaped by Water: An Arizona Historical Perspective” in Arizona Water Policy – Management Solutions in an Urbanizing, Arid Region. Bonnie G. Colby and Katharine Jacobs, editors. Resources for the Future. Washington. 2007. p. 18.
  2. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  3. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  4. Ibid, Stanley.
  5. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  6. Ibid, Harrison.
  7. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  8. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017
  9. Stanley, John. Arizona Explained: Parker Dam almost started war. Arizona Republic. AZCentral Archives. Posted 15 July 2013. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017.
  10. Ibid, Stanley.
  11. Harrison, Scott. The Parker Dam War. Los Angeles Times. Posted 21 August 2015. Web. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  12. Spencer, Monica. This Is The Single Craziest Thing You Never Knew Happened In Arizona. Only in Your State Website. Posted 10 May 2016. Accessed 22 January 2107.
  13. Rodriquez, Nadine Arroyo. Did You Know: Arizona Navy Deployed In 1934. KJZZ Radio. Posted 4 September 2014. Web. Accessed 22 January 2017

Photo Credit: From Los Angeles Times archives as displayed in “The Parker Dam War” by Scott Harrison.

Original photo caption:

March 1934: The “Julia B”, a Colorado River ferry, is seen during the so-called Parker Dam War. After several members of the Arizona National Guard used the vessel to scout the river, the ferry was dubbed the flagship of the Arizona Navy. This photo was published March 8, 1934 by the Los Angeles Times.

Cow-tastrophe in the Making – Environmental Impacts of the Cattle Industry.

Years ago I remember reading reports on the connection between the cattle industry and global warming.  The articles spoke about how cow flatulence (cow farts) produced excessive amounts of methane, one of the worst gases contributing to global warming.  I dismissed the stories mainly because the reporters’ irreverent slants on cow farts impacting our atmosphere seemed laughable.  Now I’m not so sure.

Recently I watched the document “Cowspiracy” by Kip Andersen and was shocked by some of the information revealed. I’ve watched many, many documentaries and have been involved in the environmental movement for decades, but Andersen’s movie left me with an immediate visceral impact. If true, the cattle industry is one of the leading causes of not only climate change but habitat destruction, water pollution and other impending ecological crises.

How could I have missed this HUGE ominous impact to our global ecosystem? Was I living under a rock? I had to know more.

I set to work researching peer-reviewed scientific information on the environmental impacts of this industry. I wish I could report Andersen’s movie was off-base but I can’t. In fact, the information I found was personally devastating. It immediately made me question some of my own behaviors which may be having a bigger impact on the environment than I could ever imagine.  After years and years of conserving, recycling and being an environmental advocate, it seems my good intentions have been short sighted.

Recently, my blogs have been focusing on water use and contamination issues from hydraulic fracking.  I know the fracking industry uses a huge amount of water – 100 billion gallons of water every year in the US – but I was shocked by Andersen’s disclosure that animal agriculture uses 34 TRILLION gallons of water annually in the US – 340 times that of fracking! WOW!

He points out that our personal (domestic use) of water in the US accounts for only 5% of the total water use but agriculture uses 55% of all the water in the economy. Yet all the conservation efforts proposed by the EPA and other groups are focused on getting us to reduce our personal consumption of water. Clearly the focus needs to be elsewhere.

Recent attention has been given to the concept of “embedded water” which is the hidden water needed to create a product. A National Geographic website page called “The Hidden Water We Use” reveals that 1,799 gallons of water are used to produce one pound of beef. This figure includes 6.6 pounds of grain for feed plus irrigation water, 36.2 pounds of roughage or grasses for feed plus irrigation water and 18.6 gallons of water for drinking and processing per pound of beef.

According to the Home Water Works Organization website, the average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts 8.2 minutes.  If we assume a quarter pound burger uses 450 gallons of water, then just one burger is equivalent to almost one month of daily showers. What an eye-opener!

Consider the larger impact on our globe. McDonalds sells 6,480,000 burgers per day world-wide. If we assume they are all quarter pound patties, then 2.9 billion gallons of water have been used to produce this daily allotment. Now multiply that by all the other burger chains and restaurants selling hamburgers. Now add the steakhouses… Get the picture?  It’s the domino effect on our water supplies.

Clearly our conservation focus should also be on our food consumption habits and not just our home. I’m not saying don’t conserve water at home. Let’s face it, wasting water is wasting water. There’s no need for it. However, if we can make a greater impact on protecting our water resources by changing our diet, isn’t it worth it? Especially when almost all nutritionists purport that a plant based diet is better for our health and is also environmentally sustainable, unlike cattle production.

Of course the water resource issue of the cattle industry is just one small piece of the bigger environmental puzzle. I encourage you to watch Kip Andersen’s “Cowspiracy” documentary for some startling conclusions to this controversy. You can stream it on Netflix or purchase it online.

Also, consider downloading the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options” (2006). This information is too important not to know.

What if by changing our diet we could nip climate change in the bud? Would you do it?

Water Flows Uphill to Money

“Life is not fair” is a lesson many people learn in early childhood. Whether it stems from watching popular students get picked first during elementary gym class or being forced to turn over lunch money to school yard bullies, some events in life just seem blatantly unfair.  For many people in California this theme may still ring true because, as the saying goes, “water flows uphill to money”.

A recent comparison of water rates in two middle class neighborhoods in California revealed an extreme example of unfairness. UCLA Blue Print published a Fall 2016 online article on water rate inequities. The piece called attention to the wide disparity in prices that water districts charge. It focused on the differences in water prices for the working class communities of Lynwood and Pico Rivera. In Pico Rivera the annual water bill averaged less than $200 per family a year whereas “in Lynwood, that same amount of water costs a family more than $1,500.”1

What causes such price disparity? The short answer for these residents is it depends upon where the water is coming from. Residents in Pico Rivera get their water locally from groundwater. Residents in Lynwood are “stuck with the privately owned Park Water Company, which purchases water conveyed from elsewhere and has some of the county’s highest rates.”2

Unfortunately such situations aren’t that unusual in California. A quick glance online will reveal several other similar articles. Last fall, the New York Times featured a story on how stingy water users have been fined for using too much water while in upscale Los Angeles hills, a man dubbed “the Wet Prince of Belair” proceeded to use more than 30,000 gallons of water per day — “the equivalent of 400 toilet flushes each hour with two showers running constantly, with enough water left over to keep the lawn perfectly green” and was never fined.3

Meanwhile, this fall, wealthy people in Hillsborough California who clearly can afford to pay for any amount of water they would like to use, are playing bully by suing their town for using Tiered Water Rates to help encourage conservation. What’s the reason behind the lawsuit? The aggrieved residents say “Hillsborough water officials violated Proposition 218, a state law that makes it illegal for government to charge more for a service than it costs to provide.”4

Legal Counsel for the plaintiffs freely acknowledges that it’s not about the money but about the principle.  They feel their “town is running amok.”5 Clearly encouraging saving water in a long-term drought is akin to some socialist movement in a pro-capitalist area. Why save water when they can always buy more?

How incredibly frustrating it must be for California water managers to establish water conservation policy and set rates given such constraints and attitudes. When did water become an entitlement for the privileged and not a resource for everyone?

 

References:

  1. Banks, Sandy. “A Problem: Water and Inequality”, UCLA Blue Print, Fall 2016. Web. 28-December 2016.
  2. Ibid, Banks.
  3. Lovett, Ian. “In California, Stingy Water Users Are Fined in Drought, While the Rich Soak”. New York Times. 21 November 2015. Web. 28 December 2016.
  4. Rogers, Paul. “California Drought: Wealthy Hillsborough Residents Sue, Saying Water Rates are Too High”. Mercury News. 30 November 2016. Web. 28 December 2016.
  5. Ibid, Rogers.

Aquifer Exemptions – the Legal Way to Pollute Groundwater

There is a little known provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA) called an “Aquifer Exemption” that allows oil, gas and mining industries to legally impact groundwater – including some aquifers set aside for drinking water.  While these industries have purported to install wells and perform activities with no leakage and permanent protection, in truth, nothing is ever permanent. Seals and casings can and will fail over time and begin impacting some of the more pristine aquifers the wells may already penetrate. How did this risky loophole get placed into the SDWA?? A quick look at history may be our guide.

In 1974 America was going through an energy crisis. The OPEC oil nations sanctioned an oil embargo which stopped the US in her tracks. People “frequently faced around-the-block lines” at gas stations when filling-up.1 Gas guzzling V-8’s and V-6’s were the standard American-made cars.

During the same time period, the country was suffering from self-inflicted environmental degradation. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, published in 1962, brought the dangers of prolific pesticide use to light and initiated a grass roots movement to save the environment. By the early 1970’s, several legislative Acts focusing on protecting the environment were created. One of these was the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974.

The goal of the SDWA was to “ensure the purity of the water we consume.”2 However in light of the energy crisis, “Congress added language to the Act mandating the EPA not “interfere with or impede” oil and gas production unless it is “absolutely essential” in order to protect underground sources of drinking water.”3

To accommodate the Congressional mandate, the EPA developed a set of regulations for Underground Injection Control (UIC) in 1980. The UIC regulations included provisions for an “Aquifer Exemption” program which “allows water that would otherwise be defined as a source of drinking water to be exempted from the prohibition on injection.”4 Aquifer Exemptions were deemed necessary for the oil and gas industry to continue exploration.5 For every barrel of oil produced, 15 barrels of oil wastewater is generated and the easiest way to dispose of it is by underground injection.6

The original goal of the Aquifer Exemption program was to identify aquifers or portions of aquifers that are exempt from the definition of an Underground Source of Drinking Water (USDW); develop rules for EPA review and approval and describe delineation procedures for exempted aquifers.7 However, what has resulted over the last 36 years is a mish-mash of state Aquifer Exemption programs with limited Federal oversight allowing the oil and gas industry as well as the uranium mining industry to freely pollute drinking water aquifers.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation found “Federal officials have given energy and mining companies’ permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.”8 Their investigation cited worrisome examples in Wyoming, California, Texas and Denver.

The travesty behind some of these examples is that Aquifer Exemptions are being allowed in areas where underground aquifers are at a premium. For example, some drought-stricken communities in Texas are so desperate for water they are looking to treat brackish water to make it potable and the cities of San Antonio and El Paso are considering building desalinization plants to supply drinking water. At the same time, environmental officials have “have granted more than 50 exemptions for waste disposal and uranium mining” in Texas.9 A similar situation has played out in California. Areas with the greatest need for groundwater are the same ones where underground injections of oil wastewater have been allowed.10

The misuse of the Aquifer Exemption program has been repeatedly brought to light in recent years.  The issue became so controversial that the General Accounting Office (GAO) was tasked to do a report for Congress. The GAO report found 1) EPA “safeguards do not address emerging underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids” and therefore may not “fully protect underground drinking water”11; 2) “EPA is not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities”12; 3) “EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations”; 4) the data EPA collects is “not reliable”, meaning complete or comparable on a national basis13 and probably most frightening  5) the EPA has not incorporated state requirements and changes into federal regulations and “may not be able to enforce all state program requirements”14 In other words the EPA would have a hard time preventing individual states from doing what they are currently doing.

Even more telling are the sheer numbers of class II underground injection wells in some states. As of 2012, Texas had 52,977 class II wells, California had 49,783, Kansas had 16,965, Oklahoma had 11,134 and there are thousands in many other states. While only a small number of these wells have Aquifer Exemptions, the primary concern for any injection well over the long term is leakage and cross contamination of aquifers. In spite of what well-drillers might say, no well cap, casing or seal is permanent. Time always gets its way and when it does, we better be ready.

 

References:

  1. Myre, Greg. “Gas Lines Evoke Memories of Oil Crises In The 1970s”, NPR 10 November 2012, Web. 13 December 2016.
  2. Agee, James L. “Protecting America’s Drinking Water: Our Responsibilities Under the Safe Drinking Water Act”, EPA Journal, March 1975, EPA Archives. Web. 12 December 2016.
  3. Thorp, Lynn W. and Noël, John. “Aquifer Exemptions: Program Overview and Emerging Concerns”, Journal American Water Works Association, 107:9, September 2015, p. 53.
  4. Ibid, p. 53.
  5. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  6. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx Media. No date. Web. 14 November 2016.
  7. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  8. Lustgarten, Abrahm. “Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply”, ProPublica Inc. 12 December 2012. Web 12 December 2016.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. General Accounting Office. “Drinking Water – EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated With Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement” GAO-14-555. July 2014.
  12. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  13. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  14. Ibid, GAO Highlights.

Is water a God-given right?

Most people think access to water is a God-given right, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. History is filled with legal precedents trying to resolve basic water rights; essentially sorting out the “haves versus the have nots”. Even today, in water-scarce areas like South Africa and the Middle East, unstable governments are allowing private companies to provide water services. Unfortunately many of these large corporations are callously controlling limited water resources making access to this life giving substance an economic burden for the poor.

Here in Arizona, a new “land rush” has begun in rural areas with the express intent of gaining access to aquifers virtually unregulated by Arizona state water law. Farmers from drought stricken areas of California, outside investors and even corporations from Saudi Arabia are purchasing large tracts of land in rural counties to grow water intensive crops, often for international export. Counties which have already been impacted include Mohave, Cochise and La Paz.  Could Yavapai County be next?

The intentions behind these new land investments have provoked controversy. One of the better-known investors of property in Willcox (Cochise County) is Howard G. Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffet. He was quoted in a January 27, 2016 Arizona Public Media article saying “You don’t buy land here. You buy water.”  Buffet’s Arizona holdings include 4,400 acres in the Willcox area and he’s leasing another 4,500 acres from the state of Arizona for a family foundation engaged in agricultural research.  He says they’ll keep the research going unless they run out of water.

Tempers flared in Mohave County when a Modesto California nut company moved into the Kingman area amassing more than 5,800 acres of land to grow pistachios, walnuts and almonds. A January 21, 2016 Havasu News online article estimates a potential drawdown of 24,000 acre-feet of water annually – that’s over 7.8 billion gallons a year!

What was troublesome to some Mohave County locals was the seemingly clandestine approach used to purchase the land. The company bought the land under three separate limited liability companies, including “Mohave Valley University LLC,” “Valle Vista Environmental Studies LLC,” and “RB Ranch Development LLC”; company names which hardly suggest large-scale farming operations.

In La Paz County, hackles have been raised by foreign entities purchasing land to export high water use crops, such as alfalfa, to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.  In a January 15, 2016 CNBC.com article, Keith Murfield, CEO of Tempe-based United Dairymen of Arizona, believes the Saudi alfalfa shipments are basically “exporting water,” because in Saudi Arabia, “they have decided that it’s better to bring feed in rather than to empty their water reserves.”

What’s disconcerting to county officials in all three areas is this “water farming” phenomenon is entirely legal under Arizona state law. When Arizona established the once ground-breaking 1980 Groundwater Management Act, it established “Active Management Areas” (AMAs) in mostly urban areas (Prescott being one) and “Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas (INAs) in three rural areas where over-pumping was already a concern. The rest of the state was left to “reasonable and beneficial use” – which essentially means unlimited use.

County supervisors and municipal officials have limited authority to stop land investors from mining groundwater for crops. In the same CNBC.com article cited above, La Paz County Board of Supervisors Chairman Holly Irwin voiced strong opposition to this export practice noting “It’s very frustrating for me, especially when I have residents telling me that their wells are going dry and they have to dig a lot deeper for water.” A similar situation has already occurred in the Pierce and Sunsites area of Cochise County.

How would you handle this dilemma if you were a County Supervisor in rural Arizona?

 

* Portions of this article were published in The Daily Courier’s “Talk of the Town” column on November 1, 2016. (Prescott, AZ)