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A company is pumping 'unlimited' water in drought-stricken Arizona to grow crops for Saudi Arabia: 'It is a scandal'

"We cannot afford to give our water away frankly to anyone."

"We cannot afford to give our water away frankly to anyone."

Photo Credit: @cbsnews / Tiktok

Much of Arizona is experiencing long-term drought, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. But despite the water shortage, one Saudi Arabian company is allowed to pump unlimited amounts of Arizona's precious groundwater to grow crops for its home country, CBS News reported.

What's happening?

Like California, Arizona's water situation is concerning. Even after a wet winter, the state has not recovered from what many have called a "megadrought."

@cbsnews There's a field of controversy growing in Arizona. As the state is battling one of the worst mega droughts in 1,200 years, a Saudi Arabian company is using the state's land to grow alfalfa – a crop so water intensive, that it's illegal to produce in their home country. #arizona #agriculture #farming #drought ♬ original sound - cbsnews

According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, there are no statewide restrictions on water usage other than a rule that "water should only be used for beneficial purposes." 

However, local governments are expected to determine what kind of water conservation measures are needed in their areas.

This may explain why Fondomonte Arizona, the Saudi Arabian company operating in Arizona, has not yet faced any restrictions. 

CBS News reported that the company, a subsidiary of Almarai Co., is using water pumped from underground to grow alfalfa, "one of the most water-intensive crops there is." 

In fact, alfalfa requires so much water that it's actually illegal to grow it in Saudi Arabia's own deserts. Yet, thus far, Arizona's lawmakers have not prevented the company from growing the crop on state land to ship back to the Middle East.

Why is it a problem to use water this way?

Since Arizona has a dry climate and receives very little rain on average, residents rely on groundwater and river water for all of their needs. Homes, businesses, and agriculture all rely on these sources. 

But Arizona Republic reported that overuse and drought are drying up both. The Colorado River's level is dropping, too, and aquifers are emptying at an alarming pace.

As water gets more scarce, Arizona residents will start to suffer. Water prices will rise, and some areas may experience shortages. Restrictions like forbidding lawn sprinklers may be necessary to ensure there's enough water to go around. If the problem gets severe enough, it could impact farming as well.

What's being done about the waste?

The Attorney General of Arizona, Kris Mayes, is strongly opposed to the company's current water usage. She intends to have its leases for state land canceled to prevent any further waste.

In a bid to fight any changes, Fondomonte recently hired a colleague of Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs' top campaign advisor to lobby on its behalf. At the federal level, Arizona representative Ruben Gallego recently introduced a bill that would impose a 300% tax on water-intensive crops grown by foreign entities in regions impacted by drought.

"It is a scandal that the State of Arizona allowed this to happen," said Mayes, who made canceling the company's leases a focal point of her recent campaign, CBS News reported. "We cannot afford to give our water away frankly to anyone, let alone the Saudis, for free."

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