An excellent article on the subsidies that support growing cotton in Arizona

Posted by on May 28, 2015

Flood irrigation in the Sonoran Desert—seen on a bike ride through the region in 2011. Photo: Alex Wilson

Flood irrigation in the Sonoran Desert—seen on a bike ride through the region in late-March, 2011. Photo: Alex Wilson

This ProPublica article explains the myriad federal incentives that perpetuate this unsustainable practice. It’s a long article, but well worth the read. Water is a key aspect of resilience. As the article notes, lingering drought not only threatens our unsustainable agricultural practices (not a bad thing), but it also threatens to dramatically increase the cost of electricity or even cause blackouts in the months or years ahead.


  1. I’m not sure about the best way to share your experience & this story with others… I have been using the “we are **all** users of the water” as well as the “buy local, instead” in re: the California drought. But I feel like attacking the money’s flow is maybe most effective, but I don’t know how. OPEN TO SUGGESTIONS! (now I’m off to the propublica site, and thence to the PRI “Marketplace” editorial page, or the like…

  2. Excellent article, Alex. I spent some time in AZ as Planning Director for Coshise County in the far SE Corner of the state…in addition to the Federal subsidies that foster unsustainable water use, the state of AZ exempts Agriculture from zoning restrictions, (mining, too) so that locating an Ag enterprise in an unsustainable area is not regulated. This results in locations that endanger fragile or threatened species, draw down water tables, and perhaps most importantly, allows the owners to use water at will, no matter what the effect on others. Many “oldtimers” talked about the drying up of their long term productive wells when a large commercial growing operation was initiated next to their land. The San Pedro river, the last free flowing river in the Southwest, supports 50% of the avian flyway species that migrate from Mexico to the US. Although the development of housing in the county was highly restricted (and in fact, Cochise County has some of the most advanced water development regulations for housin in the state), Agriculture was off limits. This exemption was granted in the 1880s, and has lived on to in the age of huge farm factories. Mining is a whole other issue, and is an industry that has long used and polluted water without regard for sustainablity or even common sense.


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