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An unbridled invasion by huge out-of-state Ag interests in just a handful of years has created a looming water crisis for Mojave County, near Kingman, Arizona. The big question remains: “How do we manage precious water?” Jim

“Breakneck agricultural development by well-heeled out-of-staters has upended conservative orthodoxy in this parched rural county.

“‘We were the ‘Land of the Free’ for the longest time,’ state Rep. Regina Cobb (R) said recently at a Republican forum. ‘We wanted to be able to put wells where we wanted to. We didn’t want monitoring. We didn’t want metering. We didn’t want government coming in and telling us what to do.’

“‘Until,’ she told an audience where some wore ‘Make America Great Again’ hats, ‘we saw the number of wells that were being put into the ground.’

“Seven years ago, there was virtually no farming in Mohave County.

“That changed in a big way when a Las Vegas real estate developer, East Coast investors and California nut farmers were lured to the area by its nonexistent groundwater regulations. They snatched up thousands of acres and poked industrial wells more than 1,000 feet into the ground.

“Since 2011, they’ve drilled at least 163 wells, according to county officials.

“The development drove county officials into a panic. The county seat, Kingman, relies entirely on groundwater for its population of about 30,000.

“Based on historical use and modeling, the city thought it had hundreds of years’ worth of water in the Hualapai Valley Basin aquifers it relies upon.

“But the farms quadrupled the amount of water getting pulled out for agriculture, far exceeding recharge rates, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates…

“In neighboring La Paz County, a Saudi Arabian dairy bought an existing nearly 10,000-acre farm and planted hay for export in 2014. In Cochise County, east of Tucson, private wells are pumping up sand…

“By size, Mohave County is one of the largest in the country, bigger than the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

“But in 1980, hardly anyone lived here, and it featured no agriculture, so it didn’t fall into the management areas protected by the law. That left it with almost no rules for managing groundwater…

“‘At some point, you have to say, ‘Who is going to lose in this?'” she said…

“‘Until we got a hold on our groundwater here in Arizona, it’s futile to think you can just take whatever you want and you’ll be fine,’ she said.”