Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Saudi Hay Farm In Arizona Tests State's Supply Of Groundwater

[NPR] Outside of Phoenix, in the scorching Arizona desert, sits a farm that Saudi Arabia's largest dairy uses to make hay for cows back home.
That dairy company, named Almarai, bought the farm last year and has planted thousands of acres of groundwater-guzzling alfalfa to make that hay. Saudi Arabia can't grow its own hay anymore because those crops drained its own ancient aquifer.
Reporter Nathan Halverson tells NPR's Renee Montagne that Almarai bought about 15 square miles in the Arizona desert.
"They got about 15 water wells when they purchased the property. Now, each one of those wells can pump about 1.5 billion gallons of water. It's an incredible amount of water they're going to be drawing up from that aquifer underground," Halverson says.
The land in question had previously been under cultivation for corn, cotton and other crops, including smaller amounts of alfalfa for hay, he tells The Salt. Halverson's sources told him that the farm is now consuming significantly more water, since alfalfa is a particularly thirsty crop.
The remarkable thing about Saudi Arabia's story is that it'd done something similar in the desert until the water ran out. The aquifers essentially went dry. Ancient springs that were mentioned in the Bible began drying up, and the Saudi Arabian government told its dairy companies to start importing their hay and their wheat from other parts of the world.
It turns out that hay yields in the desert are the best in the United States. You can literally get three or four times as much hay growing in the desert because you have a very long growing season: It's hot, so the hay dries really quickly once you cut it. But the rub here is that you need ... lots of water. The temperatures are so high that it takes a lot more water to keep that barren soil moist for the alfalfa to grow.
The laws were put in place in the '70s, and kudos to Arizona — they were really one of the first states to put in groundwater laws. But the laws were really designed for local or domestic farming. The idea that another country would come and essentially export your water via crops just wasn't really around 30, 40 years ago. And so the laws that are in place are really inadequate for dealing with this new trend.
This is occurring in a part of Arizona that is unregulated for groundwater. So there are no limits on how much water they can pump. Read More