Arizona should not be giving its water away to the Saudi Arabians, or anyone else for that matter. Yet, for the past seven years, the attorney general and governor have allowed a Saudi company to pump out more than $38 million worth of groundwater from La Paz County for free.
That’s right. Arizona is giving away its groundwater for nothing to one of the richest nations on Earth – and to the severe detriment of Arizonans.
It is an outrage and a scandal at a time when the Saudi government is deliberately raising the price of gasoline for U.S. citizens by cutting back OPEC oil supplies.
As attorney general, I will work to put an end to these sweetheart Saudi deals.
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As first disclosed in The Arizona Republic last June, the State Land Department has leased state trust land to the Saudi-owned Fondomonte corporation for $25 per acre, so that the Saudi company could grow alfalfa and send it back to Saudi Arabia to feed that country’s cows.
More unbelievably, the state is allowing this company to pump groundwater for free. The $25/acre land lease is well below market rates, and the water being given away comes from the Butler Valley Basin and Vicksburg – areas that Arizona cities may very well need to rely on for their water needs in the near future.
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This makes no sense and more than that, it appears to be illegal under the Arizona Constitution’s Gift Clause.
To comply with the Gift Clause, a government expenditure must (1) serve a public purpose, and (2) the consideration the public has paid must not far exceed the value received.
As stated by the Arizona Supreme Court 38 years ago, the deal between the government and the private entity cannot be “so inequitable and unreasonable” that it amounts to providing a subsidy to the private party.
Giving away more than $38 million of groundwater for free is both inequitable and unreasonable. Agreeing to lease state land to a Saudi company for only one-sixth of the market price for similar land is probably inequitable and unreasonable as well. Pursuant to the Arizona Constitution, money that is generated from state trust land leases must go to benefit Arizona K-12 schools.
Wells are going dry, complaints unanswered
Four months ago, the La Paz County supervisors filed a complaint with Attorney General Mark Brnovich concerning the below-market Fondomonte lease and the groundwater giveaway. To date, Brnovich has done nothing, not even respond to the county supervisors.
Moreover, several years ago, more than 500 La Paz County residents signed a petition that they hand-delivered to Gov. Doug Ducey’s advisers, voicing their outrage about the free groundwater giveaway.
That petition, too, went unanswered.
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Recently, I traveled to Vicksburg and met with La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin, who showed me the Fondomonte farm in that western Arizona community. Alfalfa fields stretch for miles, and commercial wells can be seen from the road gushing the state’s precious and irreplaceable water at thousands of gallons per minute.
Irwin also took me to a nearby Baptist church whose well has been dewatered. She told me that many of her constituents living around the Fondomonte farms have had their wells sucked dry by the Saudi-owned farms.
Records at the Department of Water Resources show that the Saudis are drilling deeper and deeper wells, which will likely cause residential wells to go dry.
In perhaps the greatest outrage of all, in August, the Saudis applied for two new wells in western Arizona. Those applications are pending before the Arizona Department Water Resources.
I will audit leases, work to restore funding
During my first week as attorney general, I will request an auditor general’s audit of all industrial-scale leases of state trust land where water is being pumped to determine if the rates are below market and how much school funding has been lost as a result.
If such abuses have occurred, I will work to ensure that the companies are required to restore the proper funding to the state and our schools.
I will also proactively advise the Arizona State Land Department on an ongoing basis that leasing water at rates that are significantly below market rates could represent a violation of the state’s Gift Clause and that the leaseholders could face efforts to recover undercharges in the future.
Arizona’s water supplies have never been more threatened.
Lakes Mead and Powell are less than 150 feet from “dead pool” status and hydrologists believe they will hit dead pool sometime in 2023. It is time for Arizona’s leaders to act like they care about Arizona more than a country thousands of miles away that is trying to harm America.
I will do that as Arizona’s next attorney general.
Kris Mayes is the Democratic candidate for Arizona attorney general. She served two terms on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Reach her at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Kris Mayes would stop Saudi water giveaway as first action as AG