When you think of the southwest of the United States, you imagine a pretty arid, desert-like landscape, and you would not be too far off from the truth. Phoenix contains a large swath of the northern bits of the Sonoran desert, which give it its dry, blistering heat during the summer. You would be surprised then, to hear, that Nestlé wants to build a water bottling plant in Phoenix. You would also be surprised to hear that the nation of Saudi Arabia has a stake in Arizona water as well but for different reasons.
Local leaders, including the mayor of Phoenix, want to bring a Nestlé Water bottling plant to Phoenix. Citizens were concerned, as living in the desert requires careful conservation of water in order for life to be sustained. They say it is irresponsible to bring a water bottling plant to the Arizona desert and to sell the precious resource for profit, maybe not even within the borders of the state. The state is currently in a drought, with some estimates that water security is only good for a few years to a decade. Politicians who support the plan, however, don’t see this as an obstacle. They feel that the economic benefits would outweigh the concerns about water and that the water supply would not be negatively affected. There is currently a Change.org petition to stop the proposed bottling plant from arriving in Phoenix.
Saudi Arabia’s agricultural tradition really took off in the 1990s. Raising cattle has become a very important business for the desert nation. These beasts of burden eat hay, but seeing as Saudi Arabia is mostly desert, they wouldn’t have the resources to grow the plants. Or would they? Saudi Arabia perfected the art of finding underground water tables and extracting them via wells in the otherwise dry desert landscape. After hundreds of years of extractions, however, they began looking for other areas where they could find water and grow their hay without completely destroying the water tables at home. Enter Arizona.
Saudis have been purchasing large tracts of land for the expressed purpose of growing hay. They extract water from aquifers under Arizona, water their crops, and then ship the crop out from California ports back to Saudi Arabia. Most of this is completely self-contained, and Arizona sees very few, if any, benefits from these deals (aside from the initial flush of cash from land sales). Reveal (a podcast from the Center for Investigative Reporting) did an amazing report on Saudi farms in Arizona. Check it out for more information.
Given the strains on water in the desert, and on the planet as a whole, it will be interesting to see how these two water stories shape the future of Arizona and the surrounding area.