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Hot-button use of Arizona groundwater for Saudi alfalfa is complex

PHOENIX — Gov. Katie Hobbs said she is considering whether changes to state law would give her the power to decide who can lease state land and what activities can be conducted there.

In an extensive interview after Congress adjourned on Monday, Hobbes said the law generally ensures that state trust lands get the “best and best use” and are managed to maximize benefits to the state and trust beneficiaries. admitted that he was obliged to public education.

This requirement allowed Fondmonte to lease more than 6,000 acres of land and pump the water underneath to grow alfalfa in western Arizona to feed the Saudi dairy cows. The country has banned such farming because of water use.

produced by lease national publicity And called on Arizona officials to stop it.

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Hobbes said the problem is neither so simple nor so individual.

“Fondomonte is a place where people pay attention,” she says, but points out that the company is not the only company growing crops on state-owned land.

Hobbes said that canceling one lease “treats one lessee differently than another leaseholder.”

I also have another question. How can the state refuse to lease land to grow alfalfa for export when it also leases land for other crops such as vegetables shipped to Arizona and possibly out of the country?

“That’s a really valid question,” the Democratic governor said.

In April, the state was able to revoke two well-drilling permits issued to Fondomote last year.

But it was based on the technicality that the company’s approval to improve state land had expired. It does not prevent Fondmonte from continuing to draw water from existing wells.

A related issue is that some of this farming, including Fondmonte, occurs on private land, and gaps in state law limit the ability of owners to limit the amount of groundwater they pump. All of this adds to the complexity of the questions raised, Hobbes said.

“When you look at the decline in agriculture in the Yuma area, it’s a huge food security issue for Arizonas and many Americans, especially during winter,” she said. winter vegetables.

Even alfalfa could be considered part of “food security,” Hobbes conceded.

“We raise a lot of cows here,” she said.

Another issue is whether there is enough water to keep up with the growing population.

The problem has been addressed to some extent in urban “positive management areas” where developers are required to demonstrate reliable access to water supplies for 100 years, but the state has failed to meet that goal in parts of Maricopa County. The area does not issue building permits.

However, in rural areas there are generally no regulations. Hobbes said there is no simple, one-size-fits-all solution.

“I don’t think the restrictions in force in Mojave County, for example, are the same restrictions in force in Cochise, and there has to be a local dimension to it,” she said.

Earlier this year, the situation unfolded when voters in Cochise County agreed to establish an active management area and state regulation of groundwater use in the Douglas Basin. Similar plans were rejected by the residents of the Wilcox Basin.

The Colorado River disappears before your eyes. The country’s two largest reservoirs are at dangerously low water levels. This is also one of them, at Lake Mead, in 2001 and then in 2015. In just 14 years, the lake has collapsed to a height of 143 feet and fires have devastated forests and homes from Oregon to Arizona. 2022 will be a year of drought, officials say. In fact, the West has been hit by a major drought since 2000. Why is the West so dry? Should we blame climate change? And most importantly for her 79 million Americans living in the western United States, is this the new normal? I have answered these questions. A thick ring usually means a wet year, and a thin ring means a dry year. Ancient trees reveal that the West suffered from drought for centuries, long before massive dams and man-made climate change. But in February, scientists wrote a paper in Nature Climate Change that looked at the ongoing mega-drought from a historical perspective. Details: The weather has improved, but the threat of western fires persists The drought conditions in the west haven’t been this severe for at least 1,200 years, they found. One of the causes of this great drought is the high temperature. The blue line shows the average temperature since 1895. On the other hand, since 2000, precipitation has mostly decreased in the western part. Notable is the lack of snow. Snow cover is more valuable than rain, according to scientists, because it steadily melts and keeps the soil moist for months into the summer. Robert Davis is an associate professor at Utah State University. “Snow cover has declined steadily over the last 40 years, especially in low-lying and mid-altitude areas,” Davis said. There is another factor that scientists call insufficient vapor pressure, or more simply dry air. Over the past 22 years, the dry air has become increasingly thirsty, drawing moisture from the ground. As the drought worsens, municipalities struggle to pump water out of their wells, putting the system at serious risk. For example, in California’s Central Valley, government data shows that groundwater is becoming increasingly deep and inaccessible. So how far can we push the blame on climate change?For the Nature paper, scientists used 29 climate models to conduct two of his experiments. One of them measured how global warming exacerbated megadroughts. On the other hand, we simulated what soil moisture would have been without climate change. They found that global warming has exacerbated droughts by 19%. Several years of improved snow and rain could end the western megadrought, according to the report. But the authors expect the climate in the western United States to become increasingly drier. The report says that “increasingly drier baseline conditions” have “increased the likelihood of future major droughts” that will change the West for generations to come. Says.

Howard Fisher is a veteran journalist who has been reporting since 1970 and covering state politics and legislatures since 1982. Follow him on Twitter (@azcapmedia) or email him at

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