Arizona Allows Saudi Company to Pump Water While Residents Are Cut Off

  • Arizona has taken steps to lower residents’ water consumption as it combats a long-term drought.
  • Meanwhile, the spigot flows freely for the Saudi-owned company, Fondomonte, WaPo reported.
  • Fondomonte leases thousands of acres of land to grow alfalfa that will feed Saudi’s dairy cows.

A drought-stricken Arizona allows a company to pump enough water that could support a city of 50,000 people to grow a crop that feeds Saudi Arabia’s dairy cows. At the same time, the state’s residents are being told to cut back on consumption, The Washington Post reported.

Fondomonte Arizona LLC, a Saudi-owned firm, is one of several companies that takes advantage of the state’s agricultural lease program, allowing entities to lease state-owned land for ten years to grow crops. In 2015, Fondomonte leased 3,500 acres of land in Butler Valley — a rural area just west of Phoenix — for a below-market-rate price and has since had unregulated access to the state’s groundwater, according to a 2022 report from Arizona PBS.

The company grows alfalfa hay, a water-intensive plant, to feed Saudi Arabia’s dairy cows. Once called the “thirstiest crop in the US southwest,”  alfalfa hay requires so much water that the kingdom banned the cultivation of green fodder plants like alfalfa for the sake of water conservation.

According to communications between the state and Fondomonte — which the Post obtained through a public records request — experts calculated that the company consumes enough water annually to support a city of more than 50,000 people. In 2022, the Fondomonte used 16,415 acre-feet of water last year — the equivalent of covering about 12,500 football fields under a foot of water, the Post reported.

For years, that information was unavailable to Arizona due to little state oversight and regulations, the Post reported. The company also has been resistant to sharing data on water usage, arguing that it was “being unfairly singled out,” according to a memo obtained by the Post.

In one email obtained by the Post, land-use expert and attorney, Jordan Rose, who was hired to lobby on behalf of the company, wrote: “The fact that this farm has been singled out over all other similar sized State Land Dept farm leases that are sending crops overseas or to other parts of our country seems xenophobic at best.”

A spokesperson for Fondomonte did not immediately respond to a request for comment that was sent during the weekend.

Meanwhile, state and city officials throughout Arizona have taken steps to cut back residents’ water usage. Last week, the Scottsdale City Council unanimously voted to ban natural grass in future single-family homes.

In January, Scottsdale also cut off the water supply for about a thousand Rio Verde residents, citing extreme drought conditions. One resident told Insider that his family began using paper plates for dinner and started timing showers.

Now, the office of Gov. Katie Hobbs is considering not renewing Fondomonte’s lease after it expires in 2024, according to a staff recommendation obtained by the Post.

A spokesperson for Hobbs did not immediately return a request for comment sent during the weekend.

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