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.
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.
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.
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