Saudis Buy Huge Arizona Farmland After Sucking their own Aquifers Dry

Fifteen years ago, the Saudi government told its farmers to grow wheat and paid them 5 times the market price to do so. In a county without a single lake or river, they told farmers to drill as deep as they wanted for water.

Flash forward to 2011: the aquifers were sucked dry. Totally depleted. Bone dry in a country with scant rainfall. What did they do next? The Saudi dairy Almarai came to western Arizona and bought 15 square miles of farmland. They are sucking our aquifers dry by planting alfalfa for export, which requires 4 times more irrigation than wheat.

This is how climate change is bringing competition for water to Arizona, according to a new book, This Is the Way the World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes Are Converging on America. Author Jeff Nesbit says, “This $47.5 million transaction is an example of the Saudi’s efforts to ensure the country’s dairy business as well as conserving the nation’s resources.”

Secret plan to buy farmland

Almarai bought 9,834 acres of farmland in Vicksburg, Arizona, in La Paz County through its subsidiary Fondomonte, Arizona LLC. “Water for Almarai’s irrigation efforts come from the same source of fresh water — the Colorado River –that provides drinking water for cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas,” Nesbit writes. “The Colorado River reservoirs have been experiencing all-time lows, creating a volatile local political situation.”

The US government saw it coming, according to a secret 2008 diplomatic cable. Saudi King Abdullah, fearing political stability caused by rising food and water costs in Saudi Arabia, launched a plan to buy up farmland in the Third World and the US.

“The Saudi rulers didn’t want to risk a revolution, like the Arab Spring, fueled by lack of food and water,” Nesbit writes.

Dried silt that was once under Lake Mead
Dried silt that was once under Lake Mead. Arizona will face the first round of cuts in 2020.

Severe water restrictions

In Arizona, we can expect a drying Colorado River, the exhaustion of the Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs, severe water restrictions in Cape Town, South Africa earlier this year, temperatures so high that airplanes can’t take off as in June 2017 in Phoenix, heat-related deaths, suffocating air pollution, power blackouts and wildfires like the 2011 Monument Fire that damaged 40 homes.

All this is predicted for the Southwest by the National Climate Report. Currently, there are 65-100 days above 100 degrees in Phoenix, and the Climate Report foresees 140-170 days above 100 degrees in the coming years. Depleted aquifers happened in Syria and Yemen, and it’s going to happen here, Nesbit predicts.

Nestle sees a coming global water crisis

Author Jeff Nesbit writes, "In the end, the planet will be fine. We might not be."
Author Jeff Nesbit writes, “In the end, the planet will be fine. We might not be.”

It’s not just government officials who are worried. The book describes how U.S. Embassy officers visited Nestle’s headquarters in Switzerland in 2009 at the pit of the economic recession. After meeting with company executives, who provided a grim outlook of the coming years, an embassy official cabled Washington with the subject line, “Forget the Global Financial Crisis, the World Is Running Out of Fresh Water.

“Nestle thinks one-third of the world’s population will be affected by freshwater scarcity by 2025, with the situation only becoming more dire thereafter and potentially catastrophic by 2050,” according to a March 24, 2009, cable. “Problems will be severest in the Middle East, northern India, northern China, and the western United States.”

Nestle routinely monitors environmental and ecological threats to shareholders. Nestle said a third of the world’s population will start to experience freshwater scarcity by 2025 (just 7 years from now). Nestle’s internal assessment was the first to deeply analyze the freshwater threat to a leading global business enterprise and, by extension, to billions of people who literally cannot live without access to fresh water,” Nesbit writes.

“The water table is dropping precipitously in the Western US and in northern India. In both areas, users are withdrawing more water than can be replenished and rising salinity is reducing the productivity of plants,” the state department cable says.

“Nestle sees the world, and global food production, largely in terms of the water economy. Its management is convinced that growing shortages of fresh water, rather than land, will become the Achilles heel of global agricultural development.” Water shortages — and not an economic downturn — are “the most dangerous near-term threat to the planet’s well-being,” the cable says.

“The gate that we face at present is not a question of surviving or conquering the planet,” Nesbit writes. “We hae conquered Earth. It is ours. The question is whether we can save ourselves as a vanquished Earth begins to turn against us. In the end, the planet will be fine. We might not be.”

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7 thoughts on “Saudis Buy Huge Arizona Farmland After Sucking their own Aquifers Dry”

  1. Nice summary of what’s happening and why we should care. Water (too much and not enough) is and will be a matter of national security as climate changes geopolitical realities. Check out the Climate One interview with author Nesbit for an interesting history about how the GOP response has changed based Koch interventions. I just printed several copies of Bodine’s article to mail to my current and post January 3rd members of Congress so I can ask them what they are going to do about this. There are signs that the timing is right to bring this issue to their attention. I will phone them, too.

  2. Well waaw…. so this author is incredibly racist to start. He asserts that Saudis are the problem draining Arizona of all water…. citing NESTLE’ AG …. a SWISS COMPANY …. who is furiously draining Michigan…. the state whose FLINT city is STILL in clean water instability after what 4 years!!!!

    Nestle who KNOWING in 2009 about the pending crisis, chooses to continue a VERY environmentally destructive industry that is draining even ponds in near wetland conditions of the area.

    #racism101 shame on you! For the stupid bs book AND for irresponsible media further peddling raciam against Arabs in this rising false fear based White American racism.

    Robin Hamm
    human rights

    • Arizona, a state that’s mostly desert, and in a decade plus long drought, is shipping water (in the form of dairy cattle feed) to a place that mismanaged their water supply for years.

      It could be any place other than Saudi Arabia (a country run by a murderer) and it would still be stupid.

      There is no racism here, but I think there may be some PR firm involved…

  3. This has been a known issue since at least 2015. The local PBS station played a documentary on this done by some college kids (from the Cronkite center I think) a couple of years ago.

    We have been shipping water, in the form of feed for dairy cattle to Saudi Arabia for years.

    Ducey has known for years and has done nothing. The GOP run AZ state government has done nothing.

    Don’t hold your breath expecting the Arizona GOP to do anything to protect Arizona citizens over corporate interests, ever, even if it’s a foreign corporation.

    They’re bought and paid for.

  4. Larry, a commendable work you’ve made. The exposé of the Saudi project is important news as we weigh rationing. That’s what it is. I predict that Gov. Ducey will use the issue to showboat in front of the Legs. and ask for a bill on water conservation at the session’s commencement, just as he dis on opiates this year.
    Nesbit’s is an important read. Consider the need for civil defense plans down to the neighborhood level. There has been only effort the by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and that, in my opinion has received insufficient support from the Ward offices. Please keep writing your blog.

  5. Oh wow – I had no idea this was right here in Arizona. Thanks for covering this. Is there any kind of regulation that would help, maybe something with total + average water usage? Tiny farms doing intensive things are ok, but this large-scale depletion is not.

    • Careful…. this is oozing racism. Nestle is a MUCH bigger aggressor in the water fight on this continent.

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