Leave it to Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs to be the badass mofo that stares into the Colorado River basin abyss and declares Fondomonte Corporation’s water grabbing time up.
On advice from her Attorney General the governor had been warned that she could not break the state’s Land Department lease with Fondomonte without cause or risk putting the state at risk of being sued.
So, what to do? Call a snap inspection go to the 7000 acre operation in La Paz County’s Butler Valley and check that the Saudi Arabian company was in full compliance with the terms of the lease. It turns out that Fondomonte was not in compliance and the state of Arizona could legally cancel the agreement, halt the Saudis from pumping 6 million gallons of water a month that they used to grow alfalfa that was then shipped back to Saudi Arabia for use in their cattle and ranch operations.
One down and at least one to go.
More mischief has been uncovered. The Arizona State Retirement System to become entangled in a global water grab operation.
Here’s what we know. The city of Phoenix sold a farm property they owned in 2012.
A company named the Arizona Valley Farm, LLC., takes possession of the property, and a Raleigh, North Carolina investment management company doing business as the U.S. Farming Realty Trust 11, LP, is hired to manage the new operation.
It is the Arizona State Retirement System somewhere in this chain of events that was persuaded to plunk down a cool $176 million to make this happen, to put the farm in the alfalfa growing business.
Now that this murky group of investors were in it was a simple matter of finding a buyer for their product. That took no time at all. A global company specializing in the business of shipping hay crops across the world signed up to buy what is essentially the Arizona State Retirement System’s alfalfa crop.
I have not been able to penetrate the veil of secrecy here, but we can guess, and here is what I think happened behind the scenes. Governor Hobbs calls the ASRS fund manager into her office and gives him a good going over. Once all the secret identities of all the variety of water grabbing miscreants were uncovered it was a simple pressure game to bring the sweetheart deal for the United Arab Emirates alfalfa swindle to a halt.
Discussions are underway to explore the feasibility of building a solar array on the land then selling the power into the regional electricity market. In this scenario the retired public employees will earn a portion of their retirement income not by selling off the rarest of rare resources, the state’s groundwater, instead it will be selling into the market electricity created by sunshine, an infinite renewable resource.
Who holds the future of Arizona’s groundwater in their hands today? In Arizona’s House of Representatives, it is Republican committee chair Gail Griffin, a real estate broker from Sierra Vista, and in the state senate it is Republican Sine Kerr, a dairy farmer from Buckeye. You want to see new groundwater protection legislation then you’ll need to get new protections moved through their committees. Right now, they aren’t taking questions, they’re not moving legislation even though you can be sure they are on the receiving end of outsized campaign contributions intended to keep them right where they presently sit.
If politics is the art of the possible, what three-dimensional chess moves can the voraciously talented Governor Katie Hobbs make next? More pressure will need to be put on several massive transnational dairy operators that moved into Arizona explicitly to take advantage of their lax groundwater laws. Same as the Saudi operation in Butler County the governor can call for inspections and if violations are found she can cancel their water well pumping licenses.
You need to understand where Arizona’s groundwater comes from, then you’ll understand why there is no more messing around. The underground water is sometimes referred to as fossil water, water that accumulated over time, over a very long time, millions of years of time, that if pumped up by wells can be so overused as to trigger a complete collapse of the aquifer, the result renders a desert region like Arizona utterly uninhabitable.
Protecting all of the more than 200 plus aquifers in the state of Arizona is the job of leaders who have the responsibility to preserve and protect and use its water resources in a sustainable way not just for its current population but for the future generations too. Corporations do not possess the necessary directions in their charters to do this job, it is up to the citizens and their leaders.
A decade ago Arizona’s government officials imagined they could afford to play fast and loose with the state’s water resources, that they could sign a sweetheart deal with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and that nobody would notice, it was all part of a piece of this we’ll do business with anyone and do everything we can to fatten our bottom line.
Times up, damage done, time to atone, their misjudgment and exploitive water grabbing days are done.
My screenplay only has gotten stronger, the reasons for my bringing this tragedy to comic light is that there is every reason to help the ordinary Joe understand the stakes in this life and death climate emergency struggle the world is having to come to terms with.
Congratulations to Governor Hobbs for a job well done—