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Saudi Control over Arizona Water


What a total mess in Arizona:

Arizona’s water is running worryingly low. Amid the worst drought in more than a millennium, which has left communities across the state with barren wells, the state is depleting what remains of its precious groundwater. Much of it goes to private companies nearly free, including Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company.

Thanks to fresh scrutiny this year from state politicians, water activists and journalists, the Saudi agricultural giant Almarai has emerged as an unlikely antagonist in the water crisis. The company, through its subsidiary Fondomonte, has been buying and leasing land across western Arizona since 2014. This year The Arizona Republic published a report showing that the Arizona State Land Department has been leasing 3,500 acres of public land to Almarai for a suspiciously low price.

The case has prompted calls for an investigation into how a foreign company wound up taking the state’s dwindling water supplies for a fee that might be as low as one-sixth the market rate. But the focus on the Saudi scheme obscures a more fundamental problem: pumping groundwater in Arizona remains largely unregulated. It’s this legal failing that, in part, allows the Saudi company to draw unlimited amounts of water to grow an alfalfa crop that feeds dairy cows 8,000 miles away.

Even if Fondomonte leaves the state, it will be only a matter of time before Arizona sucks its aquifers dry. While a 1980 state law regulates groundwater use in a handful of urban areas, water overuse is common even in these places. The situation is worse in the roughly 80 percent of Arizona’s territory that falls outside these regulations. In most of rural Arizona, whoever has the money to drill a well can continue to pump till the very last drop.

Of course this is exactly what you get when you combine globalization with fealty to fake libertarian principles. You just give your most precious resource to Saudi billionaires for nothing. But really, the entire water system of the Southwest is messed up beyond belief:

The Saudi farm scandal may have helped to spotlight the severity of Arizona’s water crisis, but the state will have to go further to address the root cause. Arizona needs to apply groundwater pumping regulations across the entire state, not just in its metropolitan areas. It won’t be easy. This year special interest groups scuttled a far more modest effort that would have allowed rural communities to opt in to groundwater enforcement. In all likelihood, if these groups have to pay fair prices for water, they will have to give up on growing water-hungry crops like alfalfa in the desert. This kind of race-to-the-bottom approach to water in Arizona is insupportable today, if it ever was.

Arizona is one of the last places in the United States that should be reckless with its water resources. The state is dependent on the Colorado River, which has been depleted by overuse and climate change and hit extreme lows this year. Water managers from seven states in the river basin failed in August to meet a federal deadline to make sharp reductions. As a result, the Bureau of Reclamation ordered Arizona to cut its use of water from the river by 21 percent. Arizona’s cities and rural areas alike are at risk if they lose access to Colorado River water only to find their groundwater reserves sucked dry, too.

I mean, Arizona could learn from the Hohokam whose ancient canals Phoenix sits upon what happens when you can’t manage the water in the desert, but why would some good white conservatives learn from those savages?

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