Tensions are bubbling up at thirsty Arizona alfalfa farms as foreign firms exploit unregulated water

Photo: Without pumping regulations, rural Arizona has become attractive both for foreign and U.S. farms to produce water-intensive crops, such as alfalfa. As large corporations like the Emirati agribusiness Al Dahra settle here, concerns grow about future water supplies from Arizona’s aquifers. (AP Video by Thomas Machowicz/Teresa de Miguel)

A blanket of bright green alfalfa spreads across western Arizona’s McMullen Valley, ringed by rolling mountains and warmed by the hot desert sun.

Matthew Hancock’s family has used groundwater to grow forage crops here for more than six decades. They’re long accustomed to caprices of Mother Nature that can spoil an entire alfalfa cutting with a downpour or generate an especially big yield with a string of blistering days.

But concerns about future water supplies from the valley’s ancient aquifers, which hold groundwater supplies, are bubbling up in Wenden, a town of around 700 people where the Hancock family farms. Some neighbors complain their backyard wells have dried up since the Emirati agribusiness Al Dahra began farming alfalfa here on about 3,000 acres (1,214 hectares) several years ago.

It is unknown how much water the Al Dahra operation uses, but Hancock estimates it needs 15,000 to 16,000 acre feet a year based on what his own alfalfa farm needs. He says he gets all the water he needs by drilling down hundreds of feet. An acre-foot of water is roughly enough to serve two to three U.S. households annually.

Farmer Matthew Hancock poses for a picture while sitting on bales of alfalfa hay at his farm Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023, in the McMullen Valley in Wenden, Ariz. Hancock is concerned that state officials could be eyeing groundwater from the McMullen Valley for Phoenix’s future needs amid shortages in Colorado River water. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Hancock said he and neighbors with larger farms worry more that in the future state officials could take control of the groundwater they now use for agriculture and transfer it to Phoenix and other urban areas amid the worst Western drought in centuries.

“I worry about the local community farming in Arizona,” Hancock said, standing outside an open-sided barn stacked with hay bales.

Concerns about the Earth’s groundwater supplies are front of mind in the lead-up to COP28, the annual United Nations climate summit opening this week in the Emirati city of Dubai. Gulf countries like the UAE are especially vulnerable to […]

Full article: apnews.com