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Arizona To Saudi Water Rustlers: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen The Fuck Out
Get out and take your fodder with you.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-Thank Crom) said Monday that the state is cancelling land leases that have for years allowed a Saudi-owned company to pump almost unlimited groundwater for an alfalfa farming operation in Arizona, even as the state is in extreme drought conditions. The Associated Press has the deets:
On Monday, Hobbs, a Democrat, said the state had canceled Fondomonte Arizona’s lease in western Arizona’s Butler Valley and would not renew three other leases up for renewal there next year.
An investigation by the governor’s office found that the foreign-owned farm had violated some of its lease terms. Hobbs called it unacceptable that the farm “continued to pump unchecked amounts of groundwater out of our state while in clear default on their lease.” […]
The Arizona governor’s office said the State Land Department decided not to renew three other leases the company had in Butler Valley due to the “excessive amounts of water being pumped from the land — free of charge.”
The state will terminate the contracts due to violations related to Fondomonte’s storage of hazardous materials, which the state had notified the company about in 2016. The state’s investigation last year found those problems still hadn’t been fixed, giving Arizona grounds to end the lease.
Thank goodness for lax regulation! If the company had addressed the problem or the state had forced compliance years ago, Arizona wouldn’t have the leverage needed to get rid of Fondamonte now that it’s an embarrassment.
The company is a subsidiary of a Saudi dairy company that owns farms all over the world to produce feed for cattle in Saudi Arabia, the desert autocracy better known for its human rights outrages than for any green pastures.
Fondomonte Arizona bought almost 10,000 acres of farmland in western Arizona in 2014, gaining rights to the groundwater beneath the land. A major investigative story by the Arizona Republic last year (paywalled, alas) brought renewed attention to Fondamonte’s operations, as cities in Arizona began noticing that unlimited urban growth in the desert is a problem when their water supplies go kerflooey due to drought. Here at least is a good CBS News report on the mess, from April:
As always in the West, water and who gets to use it is a perennial issue, especially with climate change. The Colorado river is in crisis, and that means less water for the Phoenix metro area and for Tucson, as well as for much Arizona agriculture that can’t pump groundwater.
In Arizona, cities such as Phoenix and Tucson have restrictions on how much groundwater they can pump under a 1980 state law aimed at protecting the state’s aquifers. But in rural areas, little is required of water users to pump from underground aquifers besides registering wells with the state and using the water for activities, including farming, that are deemed a “beneficial use.”
The Butler Valley land is actually owned by Arizona’s Land Department, which leased it to Fondomonte; in theory, the AP explains, a state law would allow the water to be pumped to cities like Phoenix, which announced this year that it no longer has enough groundwater to support anticipated future growth, and may need to halt new suburban development.
Yes, say hello to the climate crisis, it’s here.
Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes (D), who like Hobbs was elected in last year’s midterms because all the Republicans were MAGA election deniers, said it was darn well about time to crack down on the Saudi operation in Butler Valley. In April, Mayes announced her office had rescinded permits for Fondomonte to drill additional water wells on its leases, due to “inconsistencies” in the applications, so again, hooray for lax paperwork.
Monday, Mayes called Hobbs’s decision a “step in the right direction” while criticizing the administration of former Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who let Saudis drink Arizona’s milkshake.
“The decision by the prior administration to allow foreign corporations to stick straws in the ground and pump unlimited amounts of groundwater to export alfalfa is scandalous,” Mayes said.
Lord knows Arizona needs all the shade it can get, with yet another unseasonable heatwave brewing this week, the end.
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