Arizona communities sink after Saudi Arabia pumps water out of the state: ‘It’s horrific’

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The Cool Down | 27 February 2024

Arizona communities sink after Saudi Arabia pumps water out of the state: ‘It’s horrific’

By Susan Elizabeth Turek

Arizona took steps to rectify the overuse of water in October, but it is reportedly still dealing with the fallout after years’ worth of groundwater drilling.  

The Copper Courier reported in December that residents of Arizona’s McMullen Valley have seen their properties sink, with the communities now three feet or more below what they were in 1991. Almost a foot of that total has come since 2015 when corporate drilling for groundwater began. 

Some areas were impacted even more severely.

“The Emiratis are farming and have withdrawn so much water from the ground that the entire town of Wenden has sunk by four feet,” Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes told the news outlet. “It’s stunning, and it’s horrific for the people of Wenden.”

Gov. Katie Hobbs revoked a lease for a Saudi Arabia-owned farm in October, but the United Arab Emirates-based Al Dahra is reportedly one of the companies that is still allowed to continue drilling under the state’s relaxed water laws, per the Copper Courier.

long-term drought in many parts of the state, which already has a semi-arid to arid climate, has also caused policymakers to reconsider regulations. 
 

Farmers and corporations only had to drill 107 feet in the valley to obtain water back in 1957, according to the Courier. However, that has now increased to 542 feet, and the news outlet noted that more well-funded companies — like Al Dahra, which did not reply to requests for comment — are able to take on the financial burden of digging that deep.

“We’ve heard reports of homes being cracked because of the subsidence that’s been caused by that extreme industrial farming, and that’s not OK,” Mayes told the Courier. “… We are in the middle of a crisis, and we cannot be using our groundwater that way.”

Without adjustments, it appears as though relief isn’t immediately around the corner. 

The Environmental Protection Agency noted that Arizona has warmed by about two degrees Fahrenheit over the past 100 years, as the amount of heat-trapping carbon in Earth’s atmosphere has increased by 40% since the 1700s. 

The agency estimates that this is likely to make water more scarce while simultaneously increasing the need for it

“We’re really good at pumping that water out much faster than nature replenishes it,” Sarah Porter, a natural resources expert at the Kyl Center for Water Policy, told 12News in Arizona. 

To help amend the issue, Mayes reportedly has her eye on reforming Arizona’s groundwater laws, while La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin is partnering with other counties to formulate water conservation strategies and obtain funds to study the effects of groundwater depletion on their communities. 

“We need to overhaul our groundwater laws so that we have more AMAs [active management areas] in the state of Arizona,” Mayes told the Courier. 

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