Traveling the southwest of the United States, one is struck by the vastness of the desert and the seemingly inhospitable nature of the land toward anything but the most hardy of desert plants. Rainfall in the Yuma, Arizona, area is just over 3 inches a year. However, with irrigation the area has some of the most productive cropland in the United States. The Yuma Project, authorized by Congress in 1904, directed the Bureau of Reclamation to improve upon work done by previous private ditch companies and to construct Laguna Dam, the Yuma Main Canal in California, and an inverted siphon to cross under the Colorado River.

Additionally, Reclamation was contracted to build an irrigation distribution system to provide water to 14,676 acres in California and 53,415 acres in Arizona. Today, some 45,000 of the original project acres in Arizona are still being farmed. Elevations ranging from 90 to 140 feet above sea level allow for a wide range of crops year round. Winter and spring vegetables are the highest value crops grown. Nearly 90 percent of all the leafy vegetables grown in the United States between November and March are grown in the Yuma area. According to the Yuma County Extension Office, the value of agriculture production in Yuma County was $2.2 billion in 2007. Though those figures are somewhat dated, they underscore the ability of irrigation to create economic engines that, in addition to providing food and fiber for our country provide a constant source of jobs and value to our economy.

Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at