With the help of the Arizona Farm Bureau and individual farmers in the state, the University of Arizona grew a $30 million grant into a $63 million program that is working directly with farmers to save over 36,400 water acre feet (twelve times the size of Tempe Town Lake) every year. Known as the UA Water Irrigation Efficiency Program, the effort has quickly produced some exciting results.

In February 2023, the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension received a $30 million grant from the Arizona Governor's Office to research how to reduce on-farm water usage while maintaining soil health and crop yields. $23 million was set aside to directly support Arizona farmers by reimbursing growers and farmers up to $1,500 per acre to change to a more efficient watering system. The UA Water Irrigation Efficiency Program will reimburse the grower or vendor for creating 20% or more water efficiency savings. The Arizona Farm Bureau was a vital outreach organization, hosting two in-depth seminars for growers, and coordinating informational meetings and outreach to vendors, irrigation districts, and growers. Overall, the educational campaign reached over 2,000 people, including over 150 on-farm site visits by Cooperative Extension faculty and staff.

Between February and August 2023, The Water Irrigation Efficiency Board approved 62 applications to applicants in 11 of Arizona’s 15 counties. These projects will help our state conserve 36,418 water acre feet (WAF) annually, equal to over 12 times the size of Tempe Town Lake. Additionally, farmers invested their funds matching the $23 million in public sector money with $16,515,088 in private sector money. Ultimately, over 42% of the water savings program funding came directly from farmers. Because of support from farmers and growers, the public cost per water acre foot conserved was a mere $631, approximately 1/5 of the cost of desalination. Over the next three years, this translates into an estimated savings of $109,254 WAF.

With the support of the Arizona Farm Bureau and other agricultural advocacy organizations during the 2023 legislative session, Arizona funded this program an additional $15.2 million next year; $14 million will be set aside to directly support farmers and $1.2 million will be used for irrigation and crop research. Additionally, Rep. Tim Dunn (R-Yuma) introduced legislation to fund this amazing program with an additional $30 million for the 2024 legislative session. The Arizona Cooperative Extension’s goal is to support Arizona growers with research, education, and programming. Next year, the University of Arizona On-farm Water Irrigation Team will continue to partner with growers and work to conserve even more water for Arizona. Investing in Arizona’s growers is the most cost-effective way to save water.

The table below summarizes the current water savings this program has generated so far.

This article originally appeared in the February 2024 issue of Arizona Agriculture