Desert Rivers Program

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Having worked with agricultural producers for over 40 years, Arizona Land and Water Trust understands the critical role that farmers and ranchers play in the stewardship of our desert waters. Leveraging funding from private and public partners, the Trust offers landowners the opportunity – and financial incentive – to support their local river or stream. Completely voluntary, market-based water transactions provide landowners with the flexibility to choose how to use their water, and where and when to conserve that water, in any given season.

Launched in 2007, our Desert Rivers Program was established to restore desert streams and rivers in the Upper Gila, Lower San Pedro and Upper Santa Cruz watersheds.

Water Transaction Tools for Agricultural Landowners

Partnering directly with interested landowners, the Trust incentivizes agricultural water use practices that reduce pressure on local surface water and groundwater supplies. Short-term water-saving practices such as agricultural fallowing, conversions from high to low-water-use crops, and irrigation efficiency improvements all allow more water to remain in Southern Arizona’s river systems, building ecological health and community resilience.

While the below tools illustrate options for incentive-driven water agreements, transactions are not limited to these examples. The Trust works closely with landowners and funders to craft agreements that meet the individual needs of landowners and their local environments.

  • Seasonal fallowing – Suspension of irrigation on part or all of a farm or pasture; this option allows landowners to benefit river flows and riparian areas while resting fields for future production.
  • Crop conversion – Conversion of traditional crops or pasture to low-water-use species; this tool is well suited for landowners interested in water retention, soil health improvement and sustained water savings.
  • Efficiency improvements – Modernization of infrastructure or technology for irrigation, delivery or diversion; this type of transaction improves long-term water efficiency for individual or multiple landowners.

In partnership with experienced consultants, and in direct coordination with landowners and funding partners, the Trust designs and implements results-oriented water transactions. The University of Arizona Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences, AMP Insights LLC and Martin & McCoy LLC support the Trust in quantifying water savings, assessing impact and refining approach to ensure that our transactions are both meaningful and practical.

The Relationship between Land and Water

In the arid Southwest, water flowing on the surface is only half the story. Beneath the perennial, intermittent and ephemeral waters that course through our landscape are shallow rivers of groundwater that both contribute to, and receive flow from, surface waters.

Due to this connectivity, sometimes the most effective means of sustaining desert rivers is to protect the lands around them. Working closely with private landowners, the Trust has protected more than 50,000 acres of working lands across Southern Arizona. With the protection of open space comes improved watershed health: natural landscapes slow the flow of water and encourage infiltration, maintain riparian and habitat connectivity, and promote improved water quality – all while lessening pressure on limited water supplies. With expertise in both land and water transactions, Arizona Land and Water Trust is uniquely positioned to offer practical approaches for holistic, watershed conservation.

From our Partners

We are proud to be partnering with Arizona Land and Water Trust to support the restoration of Arizona’s rivers. Their passion and expertise are helping to provide lasting and impactful benefits to our ecosystem and bring us closer towards a sustainable water supply for all of Arizona.    –Intel Corporation

We believe that well-managed land can give back more than it consumes. Working with the Trust has enabled us to migrate to a native perennial pasture that improves soil health and is better able to absorb and retain precipitation, reducing our reliance on irrigation and lessening our demand on the San Pedro River system.     –Paul Schwennesen, Double Check Ranch

Read about the Desert Rivers Handbook