As Arizona continues to struggle with a dwindling groundwater supply, a rural plot of land on the California border in LA Paz County owned by the foreign entity Almari Company has lost permit rights to the state’s natural resource.
The trouble for Almari, which owns the subsidiary Fondomante Arizona, began in earnest last year before the permits to pump groundwater were revoked. Fondomonte was seeking permission to drill 1,000 feet and pump up to 3,000 gallons of water.
The permits were revoked under the direction of Kris Mayes, Attorney General. Mayes sought to revoke the permits due to inconsistencies in applications but soon found that Arizona State Land Department leased thousands of acres to the company at under-market values.
Mayes promptly called for an investigation into the matter.
According to the Associated Press, Mayes said it was ‘outrageous ‘ for a foreign-owned company to be allowed by the state ‘to stick a straw in our ground and use our water for free, to grow alfalfa and send it home to Saudi Arabia. We just can’t-in the midst of an epic drought-afford to do dumb things with the water in the state of Arizona anymore.”
Fondomante uses the land to grow alfalfa, which is in turn used to supply cattle feed to Saudi Arabian operations. The company established a base in the United States in 2014, following Saudia Arabia’s placement of restrictions on certain crops in an effort to conserve water.
Arizona enacted its own laws in 2019 with the Arizona Surface Water Code, requiring use to be permitted for beneficial use.
According to Responsible Statecraft, Fondomonte pays a mere $25 an acre for the land, a rate that’s roughly one-sixth what nearby farmers pay for land and water rights.
The public outcry has been a long time in the making, however, as protests were made as far back as 2016. According to CNBC, when questioned about foreign companies utilizing Arizona land to access water in support of foreign operations, Holly Irwin, LA Paz County Board of Supervisors Chairman, was staunchly against the practice.
“We’re letting them come over here and use our resources. It’s very frustrating for me, especially when I have residents telling me that their wells are going dry and they have to dig a lot deeper for water,” Irwin said.
The likelihood that Fondomonte will regain permits is uncertain, as drought-torn states eye legislation to ban foreign companies from owning or leasing land. Arizona Senate passed Bill 1115 in March 2023, banning foreign groups from purchasing Arizona land. While preventing future dealings, the bill did not revoke Fondomonte’s, or any other, foreign lease.