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'It's coming for everybody': Central Arizona farmers' access to Colorado River dries up completely

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Jace Miller’s farm in Central Arizona lost all of its water from the Colorado River on Jan. 1. As the drought persists across the West, people who rely on the river to survive are starting to feel the effects. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)
Jace Miller’s farm in Central Arizona lost all of its water from the Colorado River on Jan. 1. As the drought persists across the West, people who rely on the river to survive are starting to feel the effects. (Peter O'Dowd/Here & Now)

On Jan. 1, farmers in Pinal County, Arizona, lost the last remaining access they had to Colorado River water. A severe drought in the Western United States has put an immense strain on the river, which millions of people rely on.

People like Jace Miller knew the cuts were coming. His family has farmed a rural stretch of desert between Phoenix and Tucson for generations. But the family business took a turn last January when Miller lost 60% of rhe river water needed to irrigate his hay crops.

And then, on the first day of 2023, hundreds of farmers just like him in Pinal
County lost every last drop.

As a result, Miller and other local farmers will rely entirely on groundwater. He'll also cut back on the number of acres he farms, leaving up to 65% fallow in the coming year.

"Hell, I'll take a pay cut before I start letting guys go," Miller says. Still, all of these changes have caused a lot of stress.

Miller's "beautiful way of life" is now at risk. The federal government has already told the seven states along the river that even deeper cuts must come to keep the river flowing.

And soon, more farmers like Miller from Arizona and even California could see the crisis arrive at their own front door.

This segment aired on January 13, 2023.

Peter O'Dowd Twitter Senior Editor, Here & Now
Peter O’Dowd has a hand in most parts of Here & Now — producing and overseeing segments, reporting stories and occasionally filling in as host. He came to Boston from KJZZ in Phoenix.

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