In Drought-Hit Arizona: Company Draws ‘Unlimited’ Water for Saudi Crops- Governor Finally Takes a Stand

In a world where “water is the new oil,” a shocking revelation from Arizona’s arid heartland has sparked global outrage. A Saudi Arabian company, Fondomonte Arizona, has been siphoning off the state’s precious groundwater, exploiting lax regulations to grow water-intensive crops destined for Saudi Arabia.

This terrifying discovery has shed light on the ethical dilemmas surrounding water resource management, especially amidst the backdrop of a devastating “megadrought”.

The Arizona Drought Predicament

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Much like its neighbor California, Arizona grapples with an alarming water situation. Despite a wet winter, the state is far from recovering from what experts have labeled a “megadrought.”

According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, there are no statewide restrictions on water usage, except for the guideline that water should be employed for “beneficial purposes.” The responsibility of instituting water conservation measures lies with local governments.

The Saudi Arabian Water Pumping Operation

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Fondomonte Arizona, a subsidiary of Almarai Co., operates in Arizona’s arid landscape, cultivating alfalfa, a notably water-intensive crop. While alfalfa farming, due to its high water requirements, is prohibited in Saudi Arabia’s deserts, Arizona’s regulatory framework has facilitated the company’s growth of this thirsty crop on state land for export to the Middle East.

In the broader context, the Imperial Valley of California, one of the oldest farming communities in the Colorado River basin, dedicates one out of every three farmed acres to alfalfa. This crop’s significance in the desert south-west is amplified by its substantial water consumption, especially amidst a 22-year drought.

The large-scale production of alfalfa in areas like the Imperial Valley is made possible due to their significant control over the Colorado River’s water rights. However, as the river faces potential severe water cuts, the alfalfa industry finds itself at the heart of debates concerning sustainable water use.

The Colorado River, vital to over 40 million people, is witnessing a rapid decline attributed to reduced snowpack, drought conditions, and rising temperatures. Major reservoirs, such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are nearing alarmingly low levels.

Consequently, the alfalfa industry, especially in regions like the Imperial Valley, faces mounting criticism for its water-intensive cultivation in drought-stricken areas.

Despite the challenges, farmers emphasize alfalfa’s role in a broader food system, which serves both the beef and dairy industries, both in the U.S. and abroad. However, environmental groups criticize the significant export of alfalfa to countries in the Middle East and Asia, equating it to “shipping water” from already water-scarce states.

In 2021, nearly 20% of the west’s alfalfa production was exported, with countries like China, Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia being major importers ⁴.

The Consequences of Water Misuse

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Arizona’s climate is dry, and the region receives minimal rainfall, relying heavily on groundwater and river water to meet its diverse domestic, commercial, and agricultural needs.

Alarming reports suggest that overuse and drought are rapidly depleting these vital resources. The Colorado River’s water levels are plummeting, and aquifers are draining alarmingly.

As water scarcity intensifies, the consequences are dire for Arizona’s residents. Water costs will surge, potentially leading to shortages in some areas.

To ensure an equitable distribution, drastic measures like restricting lawn sprinklers may become necessary. Moreover, agriculture, a crucial sector, could also face significant challenges.

What the Legal Authorities Say

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The Attorney General of Arizona, Kris Mayes, has vehemently opposed Fondomonte’s reckless water usage. Her plan involves canceling the company’s leases for state land to halt further resource depletion.

To counteract these efforts, Fondomonte has enlisted the services of a close associate of Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs’ top campaign advisor for lobbying.

At the federal level, Arizona representative Ruben Gallego has introduced a bill proposing a staggering 300% tax on water-intensive crops cultivated by foreign entities in drought-affected regions.

Mayes has been vocal in her condemnation, stating, “It is a scandal that the State of Arizona allowed this to happen. We cannot afford to give our water away to anyone, let alone the Saudis, for free.”

In the face of this disturbing revelation, it becomes apparent that the responsible management of water resources in Arizona is a matter of utmost importance. The implications of neglecting this issue extend beyond state borders, potentially impacting the livelihoods of countless individuals and the sustainability of the region’s ecosystems.

Water Resource Management

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Ensuring water security is a pressing global challenge. Feeding the projected 10 billion people by 2050 will require a 50% increase in agricultural production and a 15% increase in water withdrawals, exacerbating an already scarce resource situation.

Over 40% of the world’s population lives in water-scarce areas, and approximately one-fourth of the world’s GDP faces water scarcity risks. By 2040, one in four children is expected to live in regions with extreme water shortages.

Climate change further complicates the issue by disrupting hydrological cycles, leading to unpredictable water availability, increased flood and drought frequency, and severe damage estimated at $120 billion annually from floods alone.

Transboundary basins and aquifers account for a significant portion of global freshwater flow, requiring international cooperation for optimal resource management.

Countries must improve institutional frameworks, information systems, and infrastructure development to address these complex water challenges. This includes legal and regulatory measures, water pricing, resource conservation, monitoring systems, innovative technologies, and enhanced water storage solutions like aquifer recharge.

Rapid dissemination and adaptation of these advances are crucial for strengthening global water security in the face of growing demand and environmental uncertainties.

Arizona’s Decision on Fondomonte Arizona’s Water Usage

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Arizona’s Governor Katie Hobbs has taken decisive action against Fondomonte Arizona, a farm owned by the Saudi dairy conglomerate Almarai Co. The decision involves the termination of state land leases that allowed the farm to pump substantial amounts of groundwater.

This move was prompted by an investigation that revealed Fondomonte had breached several of its lease terms, including unchecked groundwater extraction.

In response to Governor Hobbs’ decision, Fondomonte has voiced its intention to challenge the termination of its 640-acre lease in Butler Valley. The company has a significant presence in the region, farming around 3,500 acres west of Phoenix.

In 2014, Fondomonte’s purchase of nearly 10,000 acres of land in Vicksburg, Arizona, for $47.5 million drew public attention. The governor’s office pinpointed violations related to the improper storage of hazardous materials by the company. Although Fondomonte was informed of these violations in 2016, a recent probe in August showed that the issues remained unresolved.

Furthermore, the Arizona State Land Department has opted not to renew three of the company’s leases in Butler Valley. This decision was influenced by concerns over the vast amounts of water being extracted without charge, which reportedly led to the depletion of neighboring wells.

Kris Mayes, Arizona’s Democratic attorney general, has publicly backed the governor’s stance. Earlier this year, Mayes announced the revocation of permits that would have allowed Fondomonte to establish new water wells, citing inconsistencies in their applications.

She has criticized past decisions that enabled foreign entities to extract significant groundwater volumes for export purposes.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Viral Chatter. It was inspired by this video:

@cbsnews There’s a field of controversy growing in Arizona. As the state is battling one of the worst mega-droughts in 1,200 years, a Saudi Arabian company is using its land to grow alfalfa – a crop so water intensive, that it’s illegal to produce in their home country.
♬ original sound – cbsnews

Martha A. Lavallie
Martha A. Lavallie
Author & Editor | + posts

Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.