groundwater giveaway caper

Here is an odd bit of fact as a screenwriter attempts to make an exciting story about the water problems along the Colorado River Basin. 

It was reported in the Arizona Republic that In 2015 the Arizona State Land Department leased more than 6000 acres to Fondomonte Corporation, a Saudi Royal Family company.  

At the time the Arizona Land Department was under pressure to increase revenue on state land holdings, the lease payments were a means to that end, the more revenue they could raise the lower they could keep the state’s taxes. 

What the Land Department didn’t do is coordinate the deal with the Arizona State Water Resource Manager’s office. If the Land Department had, they would have learned La Paz County years before had set aside the county’s underground aquifer as an emergency backup water source for Phoenix/Scottsdale (The Valley of the Sun) in the event of a major drought. 

Wells were punched, Fondomonte began pumping water at up to 4000 gallons a minute every day, all week, of every month all year long. This has been nonstop since 2016. There are a lot of theories about how this deal got made, but nobody that knows is talking, most of the players in what has been characterized as a sweetheart deal have since left the Land Department.  

There is an Arizona lawyer, a well-compensated lobbyist hired by Fondomonte who helped put the deal together.  Leaning on attorney-client privilege exemptions, the attorney is not talking.  

The newly elected Governor Katie Hobbs and her Attorney General are doing what they can to move the Republican controlled legislature to help protect the state’s water.

There are currently just five (AMA’s) Active Management Areas in the state, most of rural Arizona’s groundwater remains unregulated. The groundwater is not renewable, once it is gone the aquifer is permanently depleted. 

Here’s a telling clue, because of the way this lease was drafted there is no path to terminating the lease without incurring substantial legal liabilities. Terms of this agreement are unusual in this regard. 

Arizona’s State Department of Water Resources has since started to try to do its job and has declined new permits for Fondomonte to drill more wells. Arizona’s Attorney General continues to dig for fresh clues to how this happened and is finding there is a cold trail that is rife with players that are unwilling to talk.  

For the moment the governor can’t shut down Fondomonte, while at the same time many in the state are growing furious over the way previous officials have put their citizens in a box from which they cannot escape. 

Arizona’s Attorney General appeared on CBS News in April.    

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