Arizona Gave Saudi Arabian Company Unregulated Access To Water During Drought

The company’s lobbying efforts and Arizona’s lax regulations beat state planners’ attempts to require the company to report its water usage.

Written by Joanna Button

The story: Arizona began leasing farmland west of Phoenix to the Saudi-owned company Fondomonte Arizona in 2015. Until recently, the company didn’t disclose how much water it used to grow its crops. Growing concerns about the state’s dwindling water reserves have increased public scrutiny of the foreign company’s unregulated access to the precious resource, and Arizona’s governor is considering not renewing the company’s lease.

The controversy: Fondomonte uses the land to grow alfalfa hay to feed cows in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has banned growing such crops to preserve its limited water supply. The Southwest is facing its worst drought in 1,200 years, leading rural and urban areas to fight over dwindling water reserves. Concerns are growing that the state’s groundwater won’t be able to cover demand in the coming decades.

Lobbying: State planners wanted Fondomonte to report its water usage, but state officials were allegedly “cautious of tangling with a powerful company.” Fondomonte hired two well-connected lobbyists to convince state lawmakers and committees to give the company unregulated access to groundwater. The company also made donations to neighboring communities’ high schools to win over locals.

Unlikely allies: Republicans and progressive environmentalists alike are now advocating for water and land regulation as foreign, private management of environmental resources stands at odds with efforts to protect U.S. assets from foreign influence. The shift is also visible in recent Republican efforts to prevent the purchase of U.S. farmland by Chinese companies.

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