In America currently there are no limits on the amount of water foreign governments can extract and export. Yet, 40 out of 50 U.S. states expect water shortages in 10 years, according to theGovernment Accountability Office. Saudi Arabia has been taking advantage of this lack of regulation and buying water rights in states for their own purposes during a mega drought in the South West. American farmers are suffering from their activities.
Elected Officials to Protect America’s Code Blue – Water Security Conflicts and Solutions project released a short film onSaudi Arabia buying American water rights, despite a historic mega 20 yeardrought in the region.
In 2012, Saudi Arabia acquired 30,000 acres of land in Argentina, and in 2014, they bought their first swath of land in Arizona. Then, in 2015, they bought 1,700 acres in Blythe – a vast, loamy, agricultural metropolis abutting the Colorado river, where everything but the alfalfa seems cast in the hue of sand. Four years later, the company owns 15,000 acres – 16% of the entire irrigated valley.
The Trump administration was soft on Saudi Arabia. They sold U.S. planes and shared nuclear technology with the kingdom. Saudi Arabia was the country Trump chose for his first overseas diplomatic trip setting the stage for his entire presidency. His, and his son-in-law’s friendship with the Saudi prince, Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) became an international disgrace for America’s reputation when MBS ordered the torture, brutal murder and dismemberment of a Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Today Khashoggi’s fiancee publicly stated that MSB needs to be “punished without delay” after the publication of a US intelligence assessment found the Saudi crown prince approved the assination.
While President Biden’s recent actions to hold Saudi Arabia accountable are commendable, Elected Officials to Protect America (EOPA) urges more direct actions to counter the Kingdom’s abuse of American land.
First, exports of Saudi oil to be refined in America, that is not used here, should be halted.They send us crude to be refined, a process that pollutes the air which communities of color and low income communities breathe. A recent study from Harvard University, in collaboration with universities in England, found that world-wide one in five premature deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel air pollution. According to this new research, over 350,000 people in the United States died in 2018 from fossil fuel air pollution prematurely – numbers three times higher than previously suggested by other studies.
Second, Saudi Arabia must be stopped from buying water rights in any state. The Saudi Arabian company Almarai bought land in Arizona and California with associated water rights to grow alfalfa—a huge water-intensive crop. The alfalfa is then shipped to Saudi Arabia to feed approximately 170,000 cows.
“To protect our people and water, Elected Officials to Protect America calls on the President and Congress to pass a law that prevents foreign governments from extracting unsustainable water resources. Water security is national security,” said Alex Cornell du Houx, president of Elected Officials to Protect America, Marine veteran, and former Maine State Representative. “We would never allow a foreign government that has a history of war crimes to buy American land and extract unlimited oil, yet this happens every day in the form of water – an even more valuable strategic resource.”
The origins of the Saudi initiative started in 2008, when King Abdullah launched his “Initiative for Saudi Agricultural Investment Abroad,” whichurged Saudis to go overseas and buy land.
“Water scarcity is the single greatest threat to the future of Arizona,” said award-winning journalistAnna Therese Day and host of the EOPA-Code Blue documentary.
In 2016 the Saudi’s stopped their wheat harvest, and are phasing out all cattle feed production, because they havelost 80 percent of their groundwater under the Saudi peninsula in the past 50 years. The Middle East is in aconstant drought that has been themost severe in 900 years.
Saudi Arabia has strategically come to the United States, to buy up water rights in areas that have little or no water regulations – areas that coincidently have drought conditions.
“Arizona is ground zero for water security,” said Arizona State Representative Kristen Engel, in the documentary. “We’re facing it front and center. We’re a desert state that’s grown very fast … there’s even more pressure on our water resources.”
Saudi Arabia’s Almarai purchased more than 9,800 acres in La Paz County, Arizona. Each of the wells on the property is capable of pumping more than 100,000 gallons – extracting up to2.3 million gallons a day. Development and farming have contributed to the groundwater table falling by more than50 feet in parts of La Paz County since 2010.
A 1980 Arizona law places restrictions on water extraction in Arizona’s heavily populated areas. However, La Paz County and other rural areas are exempt, resulting in no extraction limits. In Arizona state regulations allow Almarai to use unlimited water as long as it goes to beneficial use. They are also not required to report their water use.
“We have to make sure the water is taken care of,” said Claudia Hauser, owner of the family farm Hauser & Hauser Farms in the documentary. “Land and water go hand in hand. We have to preserve it, conserve it, make sure it’s used wisely.”
Saudi’s Almarai, also purchased 1,790 acres of land in California’s Palo Verde Valley in 2016 and 2,000 acres the previous year.
With $80 million dollars invested, Saudi Arabia’s Almarai Company now owns virtually unrestricted Colorado River and Arizona groundwater extraction rights. The region is locked in a 20-year-long drought, the most severe in 1,250 years. The Colorado river regularly runs dry in certain areas and the farmers that rely on it are hurting, so are communities it serves.
Southern California gold rush settlers secured their claim to water rights from the Colorado River in 1877, setting the legal precedence of “first in time, first in right” in the Palo Verde Valley.
EOPA is a non-profit organization principally made up of current and former elected officials, who care deeply about protecting our planet, and people, from the dangers of climate change. EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, shares critical climate change information, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Veterans who are also elected officials lead our mission.
March 1, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Ramona du Houx,
Elected Officials to Protect America