Senator Mark Kelly visited both Graham and Greenlee counties on Tuesday, taking time to talk to local ranchers, farmers, elected officials and businesses about the more than a trillion dollar federal infrastructure bill. The senator also stopped for lunch at the Taylor Freeze in Safford where he took some questions from local press.
“It’s great to be here in Safford,” Kelly said. “I was out here talking to some ranchers and farmers, a lot about water issues as you guys would expect. This drought we’ve been suffering from for almost 10 years now, probably the worst drought in the history of Arizona and uh, it’s gotten a little better over the past month or so, but that’s just weather. We’ve got a climate crisis with water in our state. That’s why for this bipartisan infrastructure bill I was focused on getting a lot of funding for western water infrastructure, which will really help both Graham and Greenlee county. It’ll help Safford, it’ll help farmers and ranchers out in this area.”
The Democrat met with both members of the Graham and Greenlee County Board of Supervisors to talk about “issues affecting the area,” he said.
“I’m out here right now to learn from ranchers and farmers specifically about water issues they’re dealing with,” Kelly said. “This is a serious issue. when we get to January and have to start cutting back on what we get off the Colorado River, we gotta start looking toward some long term solutions.”
Graham County Supervisor Paul David said Kelly talked to board members and other local officials about rural transportation needs and water rights issues, specifically the ongoing water rights issues between farmers in Graham and Greenlee counties and the Gila River Indian Community and the San Carlos Apache.
Kelly said he is “hopeful that ultimately there will be an agreement that works for ranchers and farmers here, works for the municipalities and also works for the Native American tribes.”
David said he talked to Kelly about the possibility of having the senator mediate an agreement between the Gila River Indian Community and San Carlos tribal governments and local farmers and irrigation districts in a “non-court resolution” to prevent what he called a “winner take all type situation.”
“It’s a long shot. It’ll require both some give and take from both parties in order to get any kind of settlement,” David said.
“We were very happy that Senator Kelly came up to visit Greenlee County to listen to our concerns,” said Greenlee County Supervisor Ron Campbell.
Campbell said officials from Greenlee County talked to Kelly about the need for forest conservation efforts and ways to react to and mitigate the worst effects of possible water restrictions.
On the ongoing statewide drought and the mandatory federal water consumption cut, Kelly said most of the cut would be felt by Pinal County farmers.
“We’ve got to come up with a plan for the future,” Kelly said. “We’ve got to ensure our water future, because it’s the future of the state and our economy.”
Kelly said some ways to mitigate the effects of the drought and the water restrictions include water storage, water conservation and looking to build water desalinization facilities.
“We gotta be able to do more with the water we have and then we won’t get into situations where we have to worry about urban areas potentially taking water away from rural areas,” Kelly said.
“If you’re a rancher or farmer, I want to make sure that the water future for those ranching and farming families is secure,” Kelly said.