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Koch Weighs in on Western States Banning Foreign Groundwater Use in Stateline Article

March 16, 2023


Natalie Koch

Natalie Koch

As the American West battles its worst megadrought in over 1,200 years, state elected officials throughout the region are rethinking how groundwater is used and who gets access to it—with some even targeting foreign-owned companies.

The Saudis have a long history with Arizona agriculture that led to the current situation, says Natalie Koch, professor of geography and the environment and author of the book “Arid Empire: The Entangled Fates of Arizona and Arabia” (Verso Books, 2023).

In the 1970s, the Saudi government invested heavily in subsidies trying to promote its domestic dairy production, which led to unsustainable agricultural and water use policies, Koch says. Several decades later, the Saudis essentially depleted their aquifers.

Knowing the country was running out of water, the Saudi government incentivized domestic dairy companies to purchase and lease land in countries that weren’t likely to ban grain exports, weren’t regularly disrupted by farmer protests and had favorable water regulations, including Argentina, Romania, Serbia and the U.S.

“The U.S. has always been promoting and setting up this entire thing,” Koch says. “It’s not like the Americans are passive in this. We have absolutely helped sow the seeds for that Saudi agricultural industry that has come back to us now.”

Read more in the Stateline article, "Facing Drought, Western States Seek to Deny Groundwater to Foreigners."

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