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Water permits for Saudi Arabia-owned farm in Arizona revoked

The state of Arizona has rescinded drilling permits for two water wells for a Saudi Arabia-owned alfalfa farm in the western portion of the state after authorities said they discovered inconsistencies in the company's well applications.

This week, Attorney General Kris Mayes said her office uncovered the inconsistencies in applications for new wells for the company Fondomonte Arizona LLC, which uses sprinklers to grow alfalfa in La Paz County and exports it to feed dairy cattle in Saudi Arabia. The company does not pay for the water it uses.

When Mayes brought the inconsistencies in the applications to the attention of state officials, they agreed to rescind the permits, which were approved in August.

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AZFamily.com reported that the new wells would have pumped up to 3,000 gallons of water per minute. An average Phoenix family of four uses roughly 17,000 gallons of water per month, meaning the two new wells would have pumped in just three minutes what a family of four uses in a month.

Several large corporate farms in western and southeastern Arizona have come under criticism for using large amounts of water as the southwestern United States is experiencing a severe drought.

In some cases, neighbors have complained that the corporate farms have used so much water that neighboring wells have run dry. In addition, Arizona faces the possibility of losing substantial amounts of Colorado River water when the federal government announces new action to  combat low water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

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“We know by anecdotal evidence that wells are being de-watered by these big farming operations. We know that land is subsiding. We can see that with our eyes,” Mayes said. “We have existing law that we don’t think his being followed.”

In the past, La Paz County leaders have voiced concern about companies from the  Middle East moving to the state to grow alfalfa that will be shipped overseas. They have said the companies are exploiting Arizona’s groundwater law that allows farms to pump as much water as they want in a time of drought. County leaders have voiced concerns over the future water supply.

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Tom Maxedon is the host of KJZZ’s Weekend Edition on Saturday and Sunday from 6-10 a.m. and All Things Considered on Monday from 3-6 p.m.