Saudi company draws unlimited Arizona ground water to grow alfalfa amid drought

How can this be!? It’s just so wrong.

Farms in western Arizona are growing alfalfa – one of the most water-intensive crops – in an area where there’s a shortage of water. Some farms are foreign-owned and are shipping the crop to Saudi Arabia, where it’s illegal to grow because it takes too much water.

It’s a growing controversy that could lead to a reckoning over scarce water supplies. Amid a backlash, the state legislature is considering a ban on most foreign-owned farms.

“Pumps are pumping water out of the ground that belongs to the State of Arizona, and essentially it’s being exported to Saudi Arabia,” said Kris Mayes, Arizona’s newly elected attorney general.

Fondomonte, which is owned by one of the largest dairy companies in Saudi Arabia, bought vast tracts of desert in western Arizona on top of a massive groundwater aquifer in part because there are no regulations on how much water can be pumped out of the ground. Anyone who buys or leases land there can put in a well and draw water.

It’s a challenge for the state. As climate change fuels devastating droughts, Arizona and its rapidly growing cities are facing drastic cuts to their surface water supply from the critically low Colorado River system.

Ben Tracy is a CBS News senior national and environmental correspondent based in Washington, D.C.
First published on April 20, 2023 / 10:39 AM