LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – One family of farmers and their large collection of agriculture businesses – in the Imperial Valley, Calif., uses more water than the entire Las Vegas Valley, according to the Investigative Reporting nonprofit ProPublica.
The report, entitled, “The 20 Farming Families Who Use More Water From the Colorado River Than Some Western States,” used satellite imagery to gather data revealing the staggering amount of water they use.
The 8 News Now Investigators, in a special report that aired in February, reported on the massive use of Colorado River water in that region. Farmers and a spokesman for the Imperial Irrigation District argued that not only do water rights dating back to 1922 put them first in line to take as much water as they need.
“We have that right,” IID spokesman Robert Schettler said.
With regard to the information reported about those 20 farming families, and in particular the Abatti family at number one on the list, Schettler told the 8 News Now Investigators what he told ProPublica, saying the IID “provides equitable water delivery service to all, including small landowners, towns and businesses.”
The Abatti family’s website, which touts four of its agriculture companies including fertilizer and seed outfits, mentions the production of cattle-feeding crops. Advocates for water use in the Imperial Valley say the water they use to grow crops feeds cattle, and cattle supplies beef that feeds the entire nation.
“We don’t waste the water here,” Schettler told the 8 News Now Investigator in February.
In a statement to the 8 News Now Investigators – the same statement he provided to ProPublica – Schettler wrote that the district “provides equitable water service to all, including small landowners, towns and businesses.”
Indeed, the farmers in the region, boast massive water-conservation efforts over the last two decades. They say they have spent half a billion dollars on conversion systems and saved a total of just under an acre feet of water per year. That amounts to roughly enough water to service two-and-a-half million homes in Southern Nevada.
Still, the report indicates the 20 families at the top of the list use one in seven drops that flowed through the Colorado River in 2022, or about 387 billion gallons. The Abattis, the report says use, an estimated 260,000 acre-feet of water whereas the entire Las Vegas metropolitan area uses less than that and aims to use around 200,000 acre-feet. One acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.
The Abatti family did not respond to the 8 News Now Investigators’ request for comment – both by phone and through the contact-us feature on the company’s website.
However, one Imperial Valley farmer, Andrew Leimgruber defended the Abattis. He says the family’s charitable donations include several sports fields in their area, built churches, and supporting many local organizations. In addition, he tells the 8 News Now Investigators, the report is misleading.
“Those water estimates are not accurate,” Leimgruber said.