Reporter sets off worry about La Paz County water table

A Saudi Arabian company is growing hay using water wells between Parker and Phoenix and then shipping it to feed cows back home. And, get this: their water usage is unrestricted in Arizona law, which means they can use as much as their wells can pump. Anybody see any problems?

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A reporter for an NPR program set alarm bells ringing when he appeared in a recent story about large foreign companies buying up land in La Paz County for the water rights.

Nathan Halverson told Reveal News that because Saudi Arabia has used up most of its ancient groundwater aquifer – natural springs that were so old they are mentioned in the bible – the country has been seeking supplies of alfalfa overseas.

As part of the effort, Saudi Arabia’s largest dairy company, Almarai, completed the purchase of 9,834 acres of farmland in Vicksburg – a 46-mile drive from Parker – back in March for $48 million. The purchase was composed of 3,604 acres of freehold land, 3080 acres of agricultural lease hold land and 3,150 acres of grazing lease hold land.

“They got about 15 water wells when they purchased the property. Now, each one of those wells can pump about 1.5 billion gallons of water. It’s an incredible amount of water they’re going to be drawing up from that aquifer underground,” Halverson told NPR.

Although the land was already used for growing corn, cotton and other crops, Halverson’s sources told him the farm is now consuming significantly more water. And Arizona’s laws allow it, unchecked.

“The laws were put in place in the ‘70s, and kudos to Arizona — they were really one of the first states to put in groundwater laws,” Halverson said. “But the laws were really designed for local or domestic farming. The idea that another country would come and essentially export your water via crops just wasn’t really around 30, 40 years ago. And so the laws that are in place are really inadequate for dealing with this new trend.”

A company connected to the United Arab Emirates also has an operation just down the road, according to Halverson. An Associated Press piece quoted La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin, whose district includes Vicksburg.

“We just want to make sure the people who have lived here, who have invested in La Paz County will not run out of water,” Irwin told the AP. “Back when the laws were made, they probably didn’t think of this problem. Of course now water became a huge issue. They’re talking about droughts all over.”

The Arizona Republic published an editorial Friday agreeing that the issue is that the laws have not kept up with the factors causing groundwater depletion:

“Arizona is part of a global economy. We export. We import. And water is one of the things that gets exported in the form of semiconductors, cotton, salad or alfalfa. We don’t have laws prohibiting foreign investment. And we shouldn’t. Nor do we have a law that restricts how much groundwater Saudi, Chinese, California or Arizona farm owners can pump if they are located outside specific water management areas. Should we? The answer may be yes.”

It strikes many observers as shocking when they discover that rural well owners – even those running huge farming operations – can pump as much water as they want with those wells, even in the drought-beleaguered southwestern U.S of 2015. But the Arizona Department of Water Resources says La Paz County has not sought to have groundwater regulated as it is in Phoenix and other conservation areas, because the Department had concluded the the county had enough water to meet its demands for another 100 years. Perhaps that estimate will be revised in light of the new operations.

A Goodyear farmer familiar with the operation in Vicksburg said the current operators know how to farm efficiently, and an ArabNews.com article said the operation is using water-smart modern methods such as drip irrigation. Still, concerns about the water table are being discussed at the state level.

Arizona’s governor Doug Ducey recently announced an initiative to evaluate water demands and challenges, including groundwater modeling. Water usage and conservation is balanced with economic benefit in most such endeavors, restricting water use for sustainability but not so much that liberty or economic activity suffers.

“Beginning in the late 1970s, Saudi landowners were given free rein to pump the aquifers so that they could transform the desert into irrigated fields,” Halverson wrote. “By the 1990s, farmers were pumping an average of 5 trillion gallons a year.”

Halverson’s conclusion is that the Saudis drained their massive underground water source – which had served the people there for thousands of years – within a single generation.

15 comments

  1. When the US Dollar is no longer allowed to prop up the House of Saud, these fields will return to US farmers. In the mean time keep an eye on the static level of your wells!

  2. Greg Parker

    Water for 100 years? How’s that gonna work when the earth isn’t set to start it’s slow consumption by the sun for another billion years. We’re gonna at least 9 more zeros worth.

  3. Marie Mullins

    Unrestricted big money can do what they want if congress denies it as an issue. Money first people last.

  4. Nina Conrad

    this is crazy Ron Ankney take a look

  5. They also have butler valley and in Vicksburg there are 3 drill riggs putting in new well today this is not in lapaz county’s best interest or arizona’s for that matter. The money az
    Farmers used to make is also gone.

  6. Ron Ankney

    Nina Conrad This is More of our “Open Door Idiocy” This kind of thing is EXACTLY why other countries will not sell water or mineral rights to foreigners when they buy land. Mexico and Japan are two right off the top of my head who must be smarter than Washington. You can bet Washington and the White House knew all about what was going on. Any foreign investments are followed closely by the Feds but They kow·tow to the Saudi’s and have shamelessly let them have whatever they want, for years now. Just plain stupid when the entire Southwest and Cali have been in drought conditions for 6 or 7 years now. You can Bet Obama and His Band of Idiots new all about what was going to happen! We are screwed. Plain and simple

  7. Teri Lindsay

    pay attention Parker citizens……. the aquifer is the most basic resource…. water! Pumping trillions of gallons of water to supply feed for dairy cows in Middle East …… really scary for the future of water supply……

  8. Anyone here old enought to remember the “temporary” hospital tax that the Board of Supervisors voted in? Yup the 2 county Supes unanimously voted for a sales tax increase across the county. Seems to be a trend around here, anyway, just talk the Supes into voting an illegal tax on EXPORT hay in the county and then a permanent tax at the polls to back it up and VIOLA!!! All is saved! Yes our presious water will be saved. But wait, didn’t the Supes a few years ago vote to SELL La Paz County water allotments to the Mohave County Water Authority?? Oh DAMN! If they don’t care about our water who will? AND the majority of hay grown in the Parker river valley (CRIT) is exported! HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?? AHHHHHH!! HELP!!!!!!!!!! This is OLD news folks. Tell me the difference between hay that is sold into Cali or sold as dairy hay for the Saudi’s?? Can you do that? Hell put an exsize tax on all hay exported from La Paz County! Hell the dairys at Vicksburg would love you!

  9. Wedostupidright, I like your style. Keep it up, even if it’s not popular, it’s better to walk alone on the right path than to be on the wrong path everyone else is on.

    In my stupid town of Quartzsite the Einstein’s on Clown Council decided to TRIPLE the fees for business licenses, no discussion whatsoever about the immorality of requiring a business to pay for a license to conduct business.

    Sighs…..

  10. I live relatively close to these farms I have a 500 ft well and it’s now dry. I don’t have the money to drill deeper I’m a single mother. My only sorce of in come is my disabilty.

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