Arizona has withdrawn permission for two new deepwater wells intended for a contentious farm owned by Saudi Arabia, located in the desert west of Phoenix. These wells would have each extracted 3,000 gallons of water per minute, said Attorney General Kris Mayes.
Mayes mentioned that in August, the state had granted approval for two new wells for the farm. During her campaign the previous year, she had expressed disapproval of the Saudi agricultural project and promised to take action against it.
Fondomonte Arizona, the company in question, leases several thousand acres of state land in Butler Valley. They cultivate alfalfa and use sprinklers to water the crops. The alfalfa is then shipped to Saudi Arabia to feed dairy cows. The company does not pay for the water it consumes.
Located in La Paz County in west Arizona, Butler Valley is east of the Colorado River and encompasses unincorporated State Trust land. It is not part of the statewide water adjudications for the Gila River or Little Colorado River watersheds.
The proposed wells would have extracted up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute, or 4836 acre-feet per year. A critic of the operation is former governor Bruce Babbitt, who signed the Groundwater Management Act in 1980 and oversaw the creation of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
According to Arizona Family News 3, a local CBS affiliate, Mayes said that her office discovered discrepancies in the applications for the new wells. Upon raising these concerns with the State Land Department, they agreed to revoke the approval of the wells. Mayes added, “They already have wells out there and we need to get those canceled as well. And I’m working as hard as I can to get that done, either canceled or not renewed next year when they come up.”
The Attorney General also criticized the Arizona Department of Water Resources for neglecting to perform hydrologic studies on the water available in the state’s rural aquifers and for not establishing new active management areas, which would initiate a system for managing water usage in rural regions.
Large corporate farms in western and southeastern Arizona have been criticized for excessive water consumption. Arizona Family reports that in some instances, neighbors have reported that these farms have used so much water that nearby wells have run dry. Additionally, Arizona is at risk of losing significant amounts of Colorado River water as the federal government plans new measures to address low water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Location of Incorporated and Unincorporated Areas in La Paz County, Arizona. Map by DemocraticLuntz, via Wikipedia Commons.