Foreign companies face mounting criticism for using Arizona water to grow crops for export

Throughout the week, we have highlighted some of the concerns about Arizona's water future, and in the western side of the state, there is currently growing frustration over several foreign-owned businesses that have unlimited access to the state's groundwater.

La Paz County is located a little more than two hours outside of the Phoenix area. The county relies mainly on groundwater, and county residents can't find enough water.

"Water, in my opinion, means everything to this county," said La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin.

Irwin has lived in La Paz County for nearly 30 years, and she has spent about half that time as one of the county supervisors. She said wells in the area recently began to dry up, and landowners are spending tens of thousands of dollars to dig their wells deeper and deeper, in order to tap into the groundwater below.

While much of Arizona has rules in place to protect groundwater use, La Paz County is an exception. It is something that Irwin believes makes the area attractive to large corporations, Like Saudi-based Fondomonte.

"Without any regulation, they can just pump until the aquifer goes dry," said Irwin.

In 2014, Fondomonte purchased 10,000 acres (about 4,046.86 hectares) of farmland in Vicksburg, which included exclusive rights to the water below. The company stated they are using the land to grow alfalfa, a water-intensive crop, that will be turned into hay and shipped back to the Middle East to feed a growing dairy business.

Irwin doesn't believe the farm, as well as other foreign-owned farms nearby, are paying their fare share for the groundwater they are using, and she is not alone.

"What's happening right now in La Paz County, is an absolute steal," said Rep. Ruben Gallego (D). "They are stealing this water, and they're doing so at a cheaper rate than a U.S. Company would be doing right now."

Rep. Gallego has introduced the Domestic Water Protection Act, which would impose a 300% excise tax on foreign businesses who manufacture, produce or import water-intensive crops in areas of the U.S. that are in the middle of a drought.

"What that does is it hopefully makes some of these companies realize that there is no economic sense for them to do this," said Rep. Gallego.

Even if the bill gets through Congress, it may only be a drop in the bucket, as both Rep. Gallego and Irwin says it's up to the state to make the first move in protecting Arizona's water.

"It's time to secure and modernize Arizona's water supply by better conserving and managing our water, and upgrading our infrastructure," said Governor-elect Katie Hobbs.

Governor-elect Hobbs says the state's looming water crisis will be a top priority in her first days in office. She is promising to audit and investigate any water deal between Arizona and the Saudi companies who are relying on the state's water to grow their crops.

"It's time to hold corporations accountable who want to give our water away to foreign governments like Saudi Arabia., because we need that water here for our families and businesses," said Hobbs..

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