Water-strapped Arizona says state will end leases on Saudi-owned farm | ET REALITY


An Arizona farm owned by a Saudi Arabian company that grows alfalfa for export will lose its access to state lands in a move that Gov. Katie Hobbs said would “protect the future of Arizona’s water.”

The farm, in western Arizona’s Butler Valley, has been embroiled in controversy for pumping unlimited amounts of groundwater, for free, to irrigate its water-thirsty alfalfa crop. The company then ships the alfalfa to Saudi Arabia, where the crop is used to feed dairy cows.

Arizona is taking steps to immediately terminate a lease from Saudi-owned Fondomonte Arizona, which operates the farm, and will not renew three other leases set to expire in February, Gov. Hobbs said in a statement this week.

Arizona’s action is the latest sign of a worsening groundwater crisis affecting farmers and communities across the country. A recent New York Times investigation found that the United States is depleting its groundwater reserves at a dangerous rate. Most of the country’s drinking water systems rely on groundwater, as do many farms, especially in the West.

Arizona, in particular, has seen an explosion of wells, which are getting deeper as users chase falling water levels. The state, home to some of the country’s fastest-growing communities, said in June it would stop permitting housing projects in the Phoenix area that rely on groundwater.

Alfalfa, grown year-round in Arizona, is a particularly thirsty crop that relies on irrigation. It is mainly used to feed dairy cows and other animals, which has increasingly made milk and meat products a burden on the country’s water supply.

Saudi Arabia banned the cultivation of alfalfa and other green fodder crops within its own borders in 2018 in a bid to ease pressure on the kingdom’s water resources.

Arizona’s decision to terminate Fondomonte’s leases was prompted by violations by the company, including long-standing equipment problems confirmed during a state inspection earlier this year, the governor said. But underlying concerns have gone beyond technical violations in a state facing growing drought and water shortages, driven by decades of overpumping as well as climate change.

Fondomonte did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fondomonte’s leases, which covered more than 3,000 acres west of Phoenix, had given the Saudi company license to pump the region’s dwindling groundwater for free. Governor Hobbs had been under pressure to restrict that access.

“It is unacceptable that Fondomonte has continued to pump uncontrolled amounts of groundwater out of our state while clearly in breach of its lease,” said Governor Hobbs. He said she was determined to do “everything in my power to protect Arizona’s water so we can continue to grow sustainably for generations to come.”

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