While drought conditions throughout the American West may have abated in recent months thanks to copious amounts of snow in the mountains, the danger of drought hasn’t disappeared completely. Amid these drought conditions, you would think that governments would be taking steps to minimize water usage so that water supplies remain available. But in some areas that isn’t the case.
Take Western Arizona, for instance, where drought conditions remain. Yet even in the midst of the desert there, alfalfa is being grown. Alfalfa requires between 20-46 inches of water per growing season, versus 22-30 inches for corn. So why is a crop requiring so much water being grown in the middle of the desert?
Well, the company growing that alfalfa is Saudi-owned, and growth of alfalfa in Saudi Arabia is prohibited due to its high water requirements. So instead the Saudis pump Arizona’s groundwater to grow alfalfa here, then export that alfalfa to Saudi Arabia to feed dairy cattle.
If you think that sounds horribly inefficient, you might be right. But when the water is being provided essentially for free courtesy of the Arizona taxpayers, what might not normally be profitable suddenly is.
The problem is that pumping out that groundwater reduces the amount of water left for everyone else. But anyone who uses that land can pump it out essentially for free.
While that might have made sense in the early days of settlement, or for homeowners who need water for personal use, allowing foreign firms to come in and pump out as much water as they want just doesn’t make sense. Some of the land is owned by foreign firms, while others are rented from the State of Arizona for as little as $25 an acre. Why is the State not cracking down on this activity?
This type of corporate cronyism is all too common in the US, where politicians of all political stripes are only too happy to allow mega-corporations to come in and use resources, especially when it means more tax revenue and more campaign donations. But at some point we have to get smart about our national resources, particularly in the water-parched West.
Whether it’s California’s water policies that subsidize inefficient agriculture, or Arizona’s that allow foreign firms to come in and poach the emergency water supply, America’s resources aren’t finite. It’s high time that the stewards of those resources got serious about protecting what he have and ensuring that we aren’t allowing foreigners to come in and rob us blind.