Hobbs ends leases for water-guzzling alfalfa farms owned by Saudi Arabia

Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs terminated the lease of state belief land by a controversial Saudi Arabian firm, and mentioned the state wouldn’t renew the farm’s leases subsequent 12 months. The offers have been controversial due to the massive quantities of water used to develop alfalfa for export.

On Tuesday, the governor’s workplace mentioned the State Land Division ended one in all 4 leases held by Fondomonte Arizona LLC. in Butler Valley, about 100 miles northwest of Phoenix. The state additionally knowledgeable Fondomonte it might not renew three leases set to run out in February 2024. 

The corporate makes use of groundwater in western Arizona to develop and export alfalfa, and in current months the corporate has been sharply criticized for consuming 1000’s of gallons of water with below-market leases, the Arizona Republic reported final 12 months.

Alfalfa is main used for horse feed, and the parched however rich nation of Saudi Arabia has a aggressive horse-breeding custom, notably among the many wealthy.

“I’m not afraid to do what my predecessors refused to do—maintain folks
accountable, maximize worth for the state land belief, and defend
Arizona’s water future,” mentioned Hobbs in a press release Tuesday. “It’s unacceptable
that Fondomonte has continued to pump unchecked quantities of groundwater
out of our state whereas in clear default on their lease. I’m proud my
administration has taken swift motion to carry defaulting excessive quantity
water customers accountable and convey an finish to those leases. And transferring
ahead, I’ll proceed to do all the things in my energy to guard
Arizona’s water so we will proceed to sustainably develop for generations
to return.”

Hobbs mentioned after directing state land officers to examine the leased property “as a part of a broader spherical of inspections of the biggest state belief
land leases” they discovered Fondomonte is “in vital ongoing
default of its lease relationship again to 2016.”

The corporate plans to enchantment Hobbs’ resolution.

“Fondomonte will enchantment the state’s resolution to finish our lease on 640 acres of state belief land in Butler Valley,” mentioned spokesman Barrett Marson. 

“On the identical time, Fondomonte will proceed to work with the state to display its compliance with the present lease necessities. Fondomonte stays dedicated to progressive, environment friendly agricultural practices on all operations,” he mentioned. “We proceed to be invested in Arizona and the broader Arizona agricultural business. Fondomonte will proceed to work with Gov. Hobbs and her administration to debate groundwater issues transferring ahead.”

Hobbs mentioned the Saudi agency was given discover in November 2016 the farms have been working below “quite a few defaults” on the Butler Valley leases, and the corporate was given the chance to “treatment” these defaults. This contains secondary containment buildings on gas and diesel exhaust fluid storage items. State officers mentioned throughout an inspection in mid-August, they discovered Fondomonte didn’t make the repairs after seven years.

“This vital default of their lease offers the division grounds to terminate the lease,” state officers mentioned.

State officers additionally mentioned after reviewing the three remaining Butler Valley leases, they’re “not in one of the best curiosity of the belief’s beneficiaries resulting from extreme quantities of water being pumped from the land—freed from cost.” 

“Butler Valley holds distinctive worth to the belief as one in all Arizona’s 5 water ‘transportation basins’ by which groundwater is allowed below state legislation to be conveyed to different elements of the state. It’s the solely groundwater transportation basin that’s predominantly managed by state or federal land managers,” state officers mentioned.

Arizona Lawyer Normal Kris Mayes mentioned her workplace labored with Hobbs’ workplace on the inspections.

“This resolution to guard Arizona’s treasured groundwater assets and uphold the integrity of our state land belief is an effective step in the appropriate route for the way forward for Arizona,” Mayes mentioned in a press release. “Nevertheless, we should take further steps to urgently defend Arizona’s water assets – particularly in rural Arizona.”

Mayes mentioned the state’s AG workplace “labored intently” with the governor’s administration on the inspections. And, the critiques “confirmed what we’ve got suspected – Fondomonte has been in violation of its leases for a few years.”

“And whereas immediately’s announcement is commendable, it ought to have been taken by state authorities a lot earlier. The failure to behave sooner underscores the necessity for larger oversight and accountability within the administration of our state’s most important useful resource,” Mayes mentioned. “It has been lengthy evident to Arizonans throughout our state that these leases by no means ought to have been signed within the first place. The choice by the prior administration to permit overseas companies to stay straws within the floor and pump limitless quantities of groundwater to export alfalfa is scandalous.”

U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, who represents a lot of the Phoenix valley, praised Hobbs’ resolution and pointed to laws he is launched that may create an excise tax on the sale and export of water-intensive crops, and use the proceeds to construct to finance drought response and resilience efforts.

Gallego in an more and more crowded slate for Arizona’s Senate seat, dealing with present Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who declared herself an unbiased in December, in addition to the winner of the Republican main, which incorporates Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb and shedding candidate for governor Kari Lake.

“Saudi Arabia ought to by no means have been to steal Arizona’s water,” Gallego mentioned. “I applaud the governor for terminating Fondomente’s lease, however we should guarantee this could by no means occur in Arizona once more by passing my Home Water Safety Act. That’s how we will endlessly preserve Arizona’s water for Arizonans.”