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ARIZONA MUST USE WATER OR LOSE IT

If Arizona wants to secure its future water supply, the state must start using its full allocation of Colorado River water, the Department of Water Resources' director says.

"This is our growth supply. And we need to find a way to hang on to it," Betsy Rieke told members of the Pinal County Governmental Alliance here Wednesday night.Rieke said Arizona doesn't use all its Colorado River water allocation of 2.8 million acre feet per year and there has been a significant drop in use since 1990.

Meanwhile, California is requesting more Colorado River water than the 4.4 million acre feet it currently is allocated.

An acre-foot of water is roughly 325,850 gallons, or the amount of water needed to supply an average family of five for a year.

Reike said any state can use more than its share in a normal year if the other states do not use all of their allocation and that California used about 600,000 acre feet of Arizona's water last year.

Nevada also has requested an additional supply of Colorado River water beyond its current allocation of 300,000 acre feet a year, Rieke said.

In addition, she said some of Arizona's irrigation districts are in danger of defaulting on the federal loans they borrowed to build distribution systems for the Central Arizona Project.

The CAP is an aqueduct that carries Colorado River water to cities, farms and other users in central and southern Arizona.

Irrigation districts, which are made up of farmers, are facing potential defaults because of low cotton prices, bad crop years, high water costs, lack of financing and idle farm lands, Rieke said.

They have a total federal obligation for the CAP of some $230 million, she said.

Delivering CAP water costs an additional $52 an acre-foot and that cost is expected to rise as soon as the Secretary of the Interior declares the CAP complete, which may be this year.

A task force appointed by Gov. Fife Symington and headed by Rieke has been created to figure out how to fully use Arizona's allocation.

Rieke said one solution being explored is for city and industrial users to financially help the irrigation districts now in return for a portion of agriculture's CAP allocation in the future.