Pecan growers Farmers Investment Co. and mining giant Freeport McMoRan are two of the Tucson area’s largest suburban water users and are actively engaged in long-term planning to mitigate the impacts of projected Central Arizona Project water shortages and cuts.
FICO currently gets about 40 percent of the water for its pecan groves from Freeport and Tucson Water CAP supplies. The company is examining the possibility of returning to groundwater pumping, but leaders say the long-term solution may include a desalination plant to purify seawater or brackish groundwater.
FICO and Freeport completed an 11-mile, $17.1M pipeline network project last year that delivers CAP water to pecan groves around Sahuarita-Green Valley last year.
The groves and the Sierrita Mine use approximately 50,000 acre-feet of water annually, or nearly half the amount used by Tucson Water’s 739,000 individual uses.
Freeport and FICO will not face shortages for at least two years when and if the CAP cuts go into effect. Other users, including farms in Pinal County, will face the first round of restrictions.
Freeport’s CAP water could begin to see cuts in 2023, but the initial restrictions will be offset by other sources.
If CAP reservoirs continue to fall into 2026, however, more draconian restrictions would be implemented, and the mitigation would cease. Even then, however, Freeport could use its credits from other stored supplies.
A key hope for the future is the potential for new technologies to make more efficient use of existing supplies to clean water, including improvements in desalination and wastewater recycling.
Freeport has begun a climate change risk analysis with the help of an outside consultant to identify potential long-term risks and opportunities through 2050. The company is also working to make use of lower quality water when possible and evaluate expanded reuse and recycling across its operations. (Source)