A look at flood irrigation in the Colorado River Basin states

Flood irrigation, also known as surface irrigation, continues to be a prevalent agricultural practice within the Colorado River Basin states. Here's a look at this traditional form of irrigation.
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Flood irrigation, also known as surface irrigation, continues to be a prevalent agricultural practice within the states of the Colorado River Basin, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. This traditional method involves water flow over the field’s surface, allowing it to seep into the soil. The following is an exploration of how flood irrigation is employed across these states, highlighting its significance, the types of crops it supports, and the percentage of agricultural land it encompasses:


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: In Arizona, flood irrigation represents approximately 28% of the state’s irrigated acres.
  • Crops: This method is predominantly applied to alfalfa, cotton, wheat, and vegetables such as lettuce and melons.


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: About 16% of California’s irrigated cropland benefits from flood irrigation.
  • Crops: Key crops include rice, cotton, alfalfa, and certain vegetables.


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: Colorado services around 20% of its irrigated acres through flood or furrow irrigation techniques.
  • Crops: Alfalfa, grains, and select vegetables are the primary beneficiaries.


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: Nevada’s use of flood irrigation is relatively minimal, constrained by the limited agricultural land available.

New Mexico

  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: In New Mexico, approximately 35% of irrigated acres employ flood or furrow irrigation.
  • Crops: This includes alfalfa, grains, vegetables, and some fruits.


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: Utah utilizes flood irrigation for around 30% of its irrigated acres.
  • Crops: Commonly irrigated crops are alfalfa, grains, and certain vegetables.


  • Flood Irrigation Utilization: Wyoming has the highest usage, with about 50% of its irrigated acres using flood irrigation.
  • Crops: This includes crops like alfalfa, grains, and various vegetables.

While flood irrigation remains extensively used, particularly for crops with lower economic value, such as alfalfa and grains, there is a noticeable shift towards more water-efficient methods across these states, including sprinkler and drip irrigation. Despite this trend, flood irrigation continues to be an economically viable option for specific crops and areas.


  1. Flood Irrigation: Friend or Foe? – CA Farm Trust
  2. Modern Management of Centennial Furrow Irrigation – Agrivi Blog
  3. What is Flood Irrigation? – TWL Irrigation
  4. Flood Irrigation vs. Center Pivot Irrigation – Valley Irrigation Blog
  5. Irrigation Methods – MIT
  6. Farmers Use Drip Irrigation to Save Water – Water Calculator


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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April 8, 2024 8:48 pm
Wow, with Arizona at the top of the article and coming in at 28%, I was truly shocked to see New Mexico at 35% and jaw dropping 50% in Wyoming! Nevada coming in at an unmeasured percentage was a surprise as well. I continue to learn that I have so much to learn regarding water and water rights. Thank you Deborah!

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