However, in the last one decade, these wells have started drying up. Travel outside the home and family-run farms, you’ll see why – well-ordered trees with pecans and pistachios in thousands of acres, huge fields of alfalfa and corn, huge dairy herds and rows of greenhouses growing tomatoes are once deserted. . . This vast carpet of industrial agriculture, with food grown for export to locations around the world, takes deep wells to sustain. For every 100 acres or more, a corporate farm owner would dig a well as deep as 2,000 feet and draw water from the ancient aquifer at a rate of 2,000 gallons per second, often 24 hours a day. Drilling rigs often resemble rigs used for oil.
Arizona has almost no rules governing groundwater extraction. As long as the farms pay the permission fee, they can pump as much as they like.
Added to the excessive extraction of water from the aquifer, Arizona (usually with the American Southwest) is now experiencing the worst drought in hundreds of years, possibly due to global warming. As the region becomes warmer and drier, more extraction is required from the aquifer, less water flows in the monsoon, or ice melts to refill it.
What we can’t get about the water cycle
In school we teach children about the water cycle, in which water travels from the oceans to the sky, to the land, to the freshwater basin, and finally to the oceans. That being said, the water we use never really disappears.
But these stories say something important: it could take decades or hundreds of years for the water cycle to complete its turn. Most of the fresh water we use every day comes from groundwater, which can take hundreds or thousands of years to accumulate. If we use water faster than recovery, or pollute it and throw it into the ocean faster than the natural water cycle can clean it up, the resource will eventually run out.
If you instead think of water as a finite material used just like oil or gas, you will quickly begin to see its presence in every part of the economy. For example, more than 70% of the water we use is used in food production. But water is also used to make everything from T-shirts to cars to computer chips.
If they do not get enough water within their own borders, then the question arises, why not import it from somewhere else (embedded in food)?
Like its cousin Carbon Footprint, a water footprint can be a useful shortcut to understanding the environmental impact of a product — or your own. For example, the water footprint of a cup of coffee is about 140 liters. One kilogram of beef takes about 15,000 liters to grow. A few pieces of bread can rack up to 100 liters. One kilogram of cotton (a pair of jeans and a shirt, say) could be a footprint of anything from 10,000 liters to more than 22,000 liters, depending on where it was grown.
This means that countries and companies, whenever they trade goods, cross the water border in large quantities in effect. But because water imprints on food or clothing or anything else are never accepted in this trade, the movement of water cannot be properly controlled.
Partly because of this, rich countries like Saudi Arabia and China have started buying land in other countries to compensate for their own shortage of fresh water. If they do not get enough water within their own borders, then the question arises, why not import it from somewhere else (embedded in food)? The problem is that the places they are shopping for are themselves waterlogged, including the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and the Sulfur Springs Valley in southwestern Arizona.
Why Arizona? Because land is cheap and well connected to the airport and water use regulations are almost non-existent.
According to Robert Glennon, a law professor at the University of Arizona and one of the country’s leading experts on water policy, in fact, the United States is the largest exporter of water on earth. Glenno calculated that during the recent severe drought, farmers in the American West used more than a hundred billion gallons of water to grow alfalfa, which was then mostly sent to China.