Attracted by loose regulations, industrialized agriculture has descended into a remote valley, depleting its aquifers-leaving many residents without water at all.
The house in Sulfur Springs, Arizona is located just outside a cornfield with a large irrigation system. Image source... Lucas Foglia for The New York Times
One morning in July 2014, Lori Paup woke up in her new home in Sulfur Spring Valley, Arizona, began to unpack the boxes of clothes, hung up photos, and prepared the day’s family for her two teenage children Educational courses. Paup had never been to Arizona a few days ago, and he was happy to finally reach the house on East Hopi Avenue—a blue two-bedroom trailer on two acres of land—but he was also exhausted. They moved from Fallentimber, Pennsylvania. The family has lived there for 15 years. They need to take Lori's husband Craig for off-road trips in a semi-truck. They are now waiting for a long list of housework. Outside, the sky is already eighty degrees north. When Lori first started pouring water into the cup, she noticed that the water coming from the tap was turbid brown. "The water looks like the desert around the house," she said. "The same color." She reached under the stream and found what seemed to be small sand.
Lori, a small woman with a tight smile and bright orange stripes in her hair, was immediately frightened by the sight in front of her. Like all houses in the valley without a reservoir or river, Paups' house draws water from a private well drilled into the bottom aquifer. According to the real estate listing, the depth of the well reached more than 300 feet. Lori, a 51-year-old mother with five children, reminded herself of this. After a while, the sand seemed to clear and the water returned to normal. Busy with other projects, she scribbled a note to call the previous owner, thinking that there was a dirt blockage in the kitchen plumbing. Soon, she forgot.
A few days later, when the washing machine stopped filling water, Lori and her daughter Amy were doing laundry. Then, a few hours later, the dishwasher also turned off. Craig has been servicing his diesel trucks for about 20 years. He inspected two machines but found no problems. The problem seems to be the pipe that feeds them. They just trickle, then splash out sand. Craig and Lori live in rural mountains in Pennsylvania and are familiar with wells. They chose the East Hopi house because of the unobstructed view of the Chiricahua Mountains to the east, but also because of the loneliness of owning a remote property, only if they have their own water source. But although these incidents seem worrying, they have not yet formed any recognizable patterns. One night, Lowry took a shower and left the room. After a while, when she came back, she found that the bathtub was only half full, with muddy water and silt. For the next few minutes, she watched a thin layer of sand at the bottom.
Soon after, a local driller rushed to the scene for inspection. As can be seen from most rooms in the house, the well consists of a 5-horsepower pump, an 8-inch-wide borehole, and a screen to filter the soil and rocks from the aquifer water. The driller explained that although the well is a bit old, it seems to be in good working condition, with a capacity of pumping 25 gallons per minute, enough to supply a household many times larger than Paups. He went on to say that the blockage and intrusion of sand is likely to indicate that the water level has begun to drop below the pipe mouth, causing the pump to act as a vacuum for the sand. In other words, the problem is not the well; it is an aquifer, and it has receded to where the well can reach.
"You are almost out of water," Lori recalled what the driller told them. There is no way to know how long the remaining water will last.
Lowry panicked, so many questions popped up in her mind that she forgot to ask the driller. When she negotiated a lease purchase agreement for a house at a price of approximately $70,000 over the phone, she was especially careful to ask about the water quality of the well. In Fallentimber, they lost several dogs and donkeys because they wasted on diseases that Lori suspects were related to the contamination of the groundwater table. But now, when she listened to the opinions of the driller and several other experts that she later consulted, she began to realize that she had never wanted to ask about the amount of water. In Pennsylvania, this is not something you need to consider. "If you drop the hose while washing the car and let the hose run, it's no big deal," she said. "There is always water."
In the next few weeks, when the Paups asked around, they heard a letter from a neighbor, and then there were six neighbors who started to find sand in their water. Soon, the wells of at least 100 families from across the valley failed or dried up. On September 24, after dozens of angry families demanded action, regular visits by state representatives turned into a de facto emergency water supply meeting for the Chamber of Commerce. The news of dry wells quickly spread across the state. Michael J. Lacey, then director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), drove 3 hours from Phoenix to the state to participate in the event. As soon as the politicians started talking, the men and women in cowboy hats interrupted them, shouting, "Water!" For the next two hours, Lacey tried to keep control because of a panic family. Stand up one by one and tell their story.
Paups did not attend the meeting, but they only had to drive a few miles in any direction to see where their water was going. Extending from downtown Wilcox, in the center of the valley, there is a large grid of recently planted farms and nut orchards. For the past fifteen years, local farmers have been watching waves of industrialized farms coming. They have cultivated so much land that sandstorms have begun to darken the sky. These huge companies flooded into the valley for the same reasons as the homesteaders a century ago: the year-round growing season and loose supervision. Compared with laws on rivers and lakes, there are few laws that regulate the exploitation of groundwater today. Under the combined pressure of increased food production, the global aquifers began to dry up quietly, and now a two-year period that includes the hottest 10 years in recorded history, forcing farmers to search for water more deeply.
At the meeting, the residents accused farmers of shirking water and shirk their responsibilities. ADWR official Lacey argued that the state was unable to put the water back into their wells. Officials explained that the only solution for homeowners is to dig down the well and deepen their well by a few hundred feet. Residents know that the cost of this is between US$15,000 and US$30,000—equivalent to half the value of some houses in the valley.
Since most of their life savings were invested at home, Paups could not move or drill deeper, so in early October, Lori and Craig held a family meeting to talk to their children about the water distribution system because they watched the well’s output from 100 gallons per day is reduced to 50 gallons. (The average home in Phoenix uses more than 540 gallons.) They explained that showers must be fewer and faster. They set up buckets to collect runoff and poured the remaining dishwashing water into the toilet. By the end of their fourth month in Arizona, it is not uncommon for Paups to have no running water for two or three days. Unimaginable a few months ago, a thought began to occupy Lowry's waking time: "What happens when we run out?"
Water is so important to all aspects of our lives that it is difficult to know how much water we use. For example, the standard unit of agriculture is acre-feet-the amount needed to cover one acre in one foot of water-which may seem large or not much at all, depending on how it is used or compared to what you make: 325,851 gallons, half an Olympic swimming pool or 50 bushels of corn. This problem is even more difficult underground. Groundwater is buried deep in the earth and is largely a hidden resource, but it provides 25% to 40% of the world's drinking water. Nevertheless, agriculture still uses most of them. This industry consumes about 70% of the water extracted from the aquifer. Almost all of the fresh water reserves on Earth that are not stored in polar ice are located at depths below 3,000 feet. Together they form one of the largest waterways on the planet. The ice age supply of rain and snow reached 60 billion gallons, almost completely unknown.
Most North American aquifers are located below the western United States and can be traced back to what we know as continental origin. Six million years ago, as the Rocky Mountains advanced upward, rivers formed deep channels in the earth's crust, separating the mountains from the basins gradually filled with eroded rock, trapping water below them. As one of the largest aquifers in the world, Ogallala, which runs through the eight plains states, is not a huge underground lake, as people imagine, but a 174,000 square miles of water-soaked soil layer, moving in the dry ground. And twisted and swayed like wet clothes in a laundry bucket. Under the pressure of billions of years, each aquifer arranges itself in a different way, forming a huge network of bays and water fractures, some up to a thousand feet thick, but some are just thin veins. The aquifer is unimaginably complex and extremely fragile. Once excavated, they may take more than 6,000 years to replenish.
The most vulnerable aquifer is the aquifer located below the desert basin in the southwestern United States. The Sulfur Spring Valley, located in the southeastern corner of Arizona, is such a basin. Surrounded by steep mountains on three sides of the valley, is an unusually flat area of 1,900 square miles of sagebrush and tangled grass, a huge natural container for rain and snowmelt. From a geological point of view, it is a "closed basin" because none of its water rejoins the river. Instead, it gathers in the center and seeps into the ground. Centuries of evaporation have turned this ancient lake bed into a dry alkali flat, and today there is a migratory habitat for 30,000 sandhill cranes. Beneath it, buried in layers of sediment, is all water that has never flowed into the ocean. Some of them are more than 20,000 years old.
Around the turn of the 20th century, when sulphurous water emerged from the ground, pastures and homesteads began to spread throughout the valley. The first deep-water well was drilled around 1915, when farmers in Texas began to use turbo pumps from the oil industry. Overnight, this innovation allowed agriculture to penetrate into the arid climate, and within a generation, the valley became the home of a thriving agricultural economy. In the late 1990s, in the first few years of the 19-year Arizona drought, it was estimated that only about 15,000 acre-feet of water permeated into the aquifer each year, and 100,000 was being pumped out; with the entire 2000s and 2010s The valley continues to warm, rainfall and snowmelt plummet, and recharge estimates are not recorded because the annual pumping volume soars to 200,000 acre-feet. Once, ranchers could develop natural spring water into puddles using only a shovel. Now, after seeing the water level drop 100 to 300 feet in 35 years, some farmers want to know how long they can last.
Until the last three years, the technology for drawing detailed maps of these underground waterways was not easy to exist. In fact, it was not until 2015 that NASA published the first comprehensive study of global groundwater reserves. The mission began in 2002. With the launch of the gravity recovery and climate experiment (Grace), the two satellites followed each other in orbit to measure the changes in gravity. The main purpose of the mission was to observe the depletion of the ice sheet, but in the next few years, Dr. Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and his team noticed that many of the most important water loss points were actually The upper is underground. They found that of the 37 major aquifer systems on the planet, 21 are on the verge of collapse. In the Great Plains, farmers used up one-third of Ogallala's drinking water in just 30 years. In California, the Central Valley aquifer is showing signs that it may fall beyond human reach by the middle of this century. But the worst declines are in Asia and the Middle East, where some of the oldest aquifers on the planet are already short of water. "Although we are busy worrying about the water we can see," Famiglietti told me, "the water we can't see, groundwater, is quietly disappearing."
In the United States, it disappeared fastest in the rural agricultural belt from Kansas to California. Unable to obtain more traditional water sources at any time, many farmers are forced to rely more on groundwater, creating conflicts with local residents watching their wells dry up. In 2014, 7,000 people in Tulare County, California had no drinking water. In the second year, oil wells hit a record low, with 64% of oil wells falling nationwide, and one in 30 oil wells in western states failed. Due to drought and tightened regulations, large farms began to look for lesser-known cheap water sources. In rural Arizona, where there are basically no groundwater regulations governing irrigation, they found an ideal destination. "What smart money is doing is looking around and saying,'Where can we go without supervision?' Robert Glennon, professor of water law and policy at the University of Arizona and author of the book "Water Park" ( Robert Glennon) said in an interview with NPR, "That's Arizona. "
Arizona is particularly attractive to Middle Eastern farmers. The unregulated water pumping policy of the Arabian Peninsula drained the aquifer that took 20,000 years to form in 40 years, leaving thousands of acres fallow, and forcing Saudi Arabia and other countries to outsource most of their agricultural production. In 2014, Almarai Corporation, a Saudi Arabian company, purchased 10,000 acres of land in the town of Vicksburg in the northwestern part of the Sulphur Spring Valley, planted alfalfa, and shipped it to half of the earth to feed Saudi cattle. Then, Al Dahra, an agricultural company in the United Arab Emirates, purchased thousands of acres of farms on both sides of the border between Arizona and California. These purchases are completely legal, but many residents believe that these newcomers are essentially "exported water." At least once, the Sheriff's Department in Vicksburg deployed five representatives to stand guard at a town hall meeting.
As the rain and snow reaching the desert floor decreases, over-exploitation has limited semi-renewable resources, triggering the kind of resource wars that may be more familiar to coal camps and oil booming cities. Hydrogeologists use the term "groundwater extraction" to describe situations where the rate of water withdrawal exceeds the rate of replenishment. For some people, this analogy provides a clear lesson. "If we know we are mining water, let's just say it," Richard Searle said when I visited his ranch on the outskirts of Wilcox. The 63-year-old Searle still maintains the pioneering style; he comes from a prominent ranch family, has served as a county supervisor, is an executioner and a former bank manager. He said that groundwater extraction in the valley was not liquidated in advance, partly because the water is so ubiquitous that it is invisible. He pointed out that local farmers have never been asked to install water meters on their wells, which means that no one knows exactly how much water is pumped, let alone how much water is left. "In the long run, people say we should find solutions," he said, "but they don't want to be suffering."
Searle sat at his desk, reached out to open a glass cabinet, and took out the arrow and the stone axe blade he had dug out of his ranch for the past 50 years. "You know, we are not the first people in this valley, nor the first to struggle in the water," he said. His face turned into contemplation. He said something about the ancient Hohokam and Tohono O'odham tribes, who had traveled through this part of the Sonoran Desert for thousands of years without digging deep wells. "But the mining industry is not a long-term industry," he continued. "Name a long-term mining community for me. Ajo, Pearce-those are ghost towns. Pecos is like this: a natural resource that is mined until the town around it falls apart. If we die, it will be a Slow process. If the entire county dries up, it will only be a flash in the pan on the radar."
Around 2003, when companies really started to invade the valley, local farmers had been gently mining aquifers for the past 60 years. Even if the irrigated area has more than doubled from approximately 40,000 acres to 100,000 acres, the potential consequences of the valley's water supply are not yet obvious to them. “I can see a few acres of land planted,” said Alan Seitz, who has grown Chilean peppers and alfalfa for nearly 40 years. "This only happened within a period of time." Setz said bluntly, with a gray moustache and Stetson. He advised local farmers to prevent and control pests and diseases. He used a Ford F- full of fertilizer research and geological maps. 250 Run his business. He was on the road most of the time, driving hundreds of miles while inspecting the fields. It is not uncommon to see farmers changing their planting patterns or fallow land. The new drilling rig or the area of new cultivated land did not arouse much discussion. Around 2010, Seitz was interested in the depth of farmers' drilling. "For those of us who used to grow corn, cotton, and alfalfa in the valley, historically, we couldn't drill deep wells," he said. Cost prohibits it. When he saw someone drill down to 1,000 feet or 2,000 feet, Seitz immediately knew that the profitable business was planning to plant nut trees.
In the past ten years, mainly driven by Chinese demand, the price per pound of pecans and pistachios has roughly doubled. But these nuts, such as almonds, require a lot of water and capital to cultivate. The average cost of cleaning and rearing an orchard per acre can exceed $20,000, partly because these trees do not bear nuts for 5 to 12 years. In the valley, the price of land is only a small part of California, and the main cost for nut growers is water. In the sapling year, trees consume only about 2 acre-feet of water per year, but require up to 6 acre-feet of water at maturity, the highest of all crops. In order to ensure a continuous supply of water from aquifers that are declining sharply every year, farmers usually drill one well for every 160 acres, each with a depth of at least 1,000 or 1,500 feet. An expanding agricultural group from Minnesota purchased or drilled 293 wells, some of which pumped more than 2,000 gallons per minute.
Suddenly, the quality of the valley that has nurtured generations of family farming—cheap land, lack of groundwater supervision—seems to threaten its existence. Within a few months, the "Intent to Drill" notifications increased nearly five times as the world's two largest pecan growers, Chase Farms and National Pecan Company, purchased and integrated thousands of acres of farms. Soon, the nut orchard covered about 20,000 acres, forcing the state to suspend construction of new farms for six months. (Today, there are 35,000 acres of nuts in the valley.) As local farmer Ted Haas said, groundwater created a "gold rush mentality", which resulted in a dozen new vineyards in the next five years , As well as 20,000 acres of corn and wheat and 16 greenhouses from NatureSweet Tomatoes, the country’s largest producer. As annual water consumption doubled, sand and gravel in the aquifer began to move and collapse, causing the elevation to sink more than 15 feet in some places. About 50 miles of ground fissure broke the surface of the valley and even split a major highway in half.
For Setz, the arrival of the peasants seemed to be a blessing at first. "There are more external capital inflows, which is a good thing for this region," he said. "This is good for John Deere dealers. I'm in the crop consulting business-if I sell products, it's good for me. It's good for irrigation companies." But a few weeks after the community meeting, Seitz told his 15 The customer and business partner sent a worried email. He wrote: “We need to get together to solve this water problem.” As more and more farms arrive and more and more families lose water sources, Seitz is beginning to realize that prosperity “on the one hand is good for the region, but We are still self-reliant". Like Seitz, most of the recipients are well-known local farmers who own small-scale family-run land in the valley and have a long heritage.
Setz knew that the responsibility for preventing further groundwater loss might fall on the biggest perpetrator: the farmers. He also knew that in order to do so, they might have to accept what their ancestors had to avoid when they came to this corner of the desert: supervision. Seitz believes that certain restrictions on the use of groundwater are the only way to stabilize aquifers. This is also the only way to protect farmers who have lived in valleys for generations from industrial-scale operations. Once the valley’s aquifers are too deep, too salty or too expensive to fetch water, industrial-scale operations can simply fetch water and transfer to Other undeveloped water layers. But monitoring corporate farms also means monitoring friends and neighbors and themselves. If they are to save the aquifer, farmers will have to implement policies that damage their own livelihoods.
When the group met for the first time at Elks Lodge, they pushed the table together and the atmosphere was gloomy. The coverage of dry wells in the valley has paved the way for months of negative news, deepening the perception that agriculture is stealing water from poor homeowners. A local petition with 500 signatures is circulating, calling for a suspension of agricultural drilling. As the United States Department of Agriculture recently designated the county as a natural disaster area due to drought, and ADWR conducted surveys of dry wells in the valley, government action is imminent. In the view of Setz and others, if they do not propose a solution, it may be imposed on them.
Most groundwater rights in Arizona are still based on the cutting-edge legal principles of "fair use", that is, the landowner retains the right to pump water as long as he or she likes it, as long as it is "fair use", for example for agriculture. In 1980, Arizona became the first state to pass groundwater reforms, effectively treating groundwater as a public resource rather than a private resource. But in the years that followed, few regulatory safeguards exceeded the boundaries of Tucson and Phoenix. Outside of these places, little has changed since the state was founded in 1912: farmers only need to submit a notice of intent to drill and pay a license fee of $150, and then they can pump water at will. For valley farmers who grow high-water crops such as alfalfa and nuts, this usually means about 2,000 gallons, roughly equivalent to the capacity of a tanker truck, 24 hours a day, every minute, with only a few months of intermittent rest. In 2017 alone, a farm drew 22 billion gallons of water, almost twice the amount of bottled water sold in the United States each year.
For almost all the men in the room—white, weather-beaten, late middle-aged, and spent decades on horseback—the "Law of Maximum Pumps" is the only thing they know. But no one in the room needs to be reminded of the challenges they face: a rapidly warming climate, bottoming commodity prices, and out-of-state funding that can withstand more and deeper drilling. Sandwiched between a corporate farm draining below them and a community blaming them, these people began to talk openly about the future of their children not being able to live in the valley.
For the next year, the farmers met for four hours a month to finalize a proposal to impose a "withdrawal fee" on agricultural wells-Setz said the word "tax" was carefully avoided- Coupled with freezing large-scale irrigation and limiting water-intensive crops. In fact, they will create a management zone to protect the aquifer and, in turn, protect their own farms from deep-water exploration by new and corporate competitors. In the early spring of 2015, when news of the closed-door meeting began to spread, they had just begun to finalize the proposal. Many people believe that any restrictions on water will depreciate property, and, worse, will cause another blow to the declining rural cultural autonomy. Citizens will come to the homes of committee members at any time and accuse them of theft.
By the spring of 2015, Setz feared that the longer they negotiated, the more blood would be aroused. In nearby towns, similar water disputes have turned into violent conflicts. Setz has lost several customers, and the neighbors of the grocery store have begun to alienate him. One morning, he woke up to a column in the Arizona Mountain News, accusing another committee member, Mark Cook, of being an outside operator. “I dug a grave and helped bury about 100 otaku,” wrote an elderly resident. "I don't remember anyone with Mr. Mark Cook in the valley." (In response, Cook provided the newspaper with a list of family farms dating back to the 1880s.) In nearby San Simeon, the call to ban drilling Several fights were triggered, some of which were conflicts between old friends. Farmers see other farmers, sometimes people who go to high school with them, stand on their side and feel betrayed. There are even rumors that those who promote the water proposal have received death threats.
Later that summer, nearly a year after Paups moved to the valley, the family finally ran out of water. In winter and spring, the well’s output is relatively sufficient: a few days of rain and fallow periods seem to help replenish the aquifer. Lori found that if she doesn't run the sink at full speed, she can use it for 10 minutes at a time, and sometimes she even takes a shower for two to three minutes. Paups’ son David said that sometimes a small ring of sand remains in their wine glasses, but otherwise it’s not too bad.
But in late May, the beginning of the summer growing season, it took half a day to drink 5 gallons of water, which was almost not enough to flush the toilet twice. Unable to rely on the outflow of well water, Lori fills a bucket of dishes at the beginning of each morning, then puts glasses and bowls under each faucet, turns on the faucet, hoping to catch any remaining water. She installed stoppers in each sewer and set up a grey water station in the kitchen. "We don't use any water until we need it," Craig told his children, who were frustrated mainly because of the short showers. By then, some people in the family only took a bath every four or five days, and the time to wash their hair was barely long enough, which has become commonplace. Lori and Craig tried to see how far they could put a gallon, and they encouraged their children to come up with new ways to save money. Once, David installed an outdoor shower with bottled water and heated it by laying black PVC pipes on a metal plate in the sun.
For Setz and the farmers, watching families like Papus suffer is both irritating and encouraging. Some people think that embracing the desert lifestyle means learning its hard lessons-as Setz said, one of them is "either you can drill deeper or you can't survive." But others admit that families cannot get the same as farmers. Loans and support from the Ministry of Agriculture. As the summer draws to a close, the committee begins to consider how their proposal can help local families.
A few months later, shortly before the next legislative session, Setz and five other farmers gathered in the basement conference room of the capital Phoenix to present their proposal. Seven of the original 14 committee members decided not to participate in the trip. After months of phone and email attacks, some of them withdrew from the committee altogether. One of them later told his brother that he would never serve on the board again. "Would you prefer to arbitrate the water in the Sulfur Springs or the peace in Israel?" his brother asked me. Others just feel that too many forces have gathered to oppose them, including the country's powerful agricultural and pasture lobby groups.
Setz, dressed in jeans and cowboy boots, explained to several state representatives and lawyers that there was clear evidence that the aquifer was at serious risk of damage. Given that climate models have little hope of restoring aquifers to "safe yields"-in which infiltration and withdrawal are roughly even-the committee recommends stabilizing it by limiting water-intensive crops and charging irrigation-related extraction fees. "If nothing happens, we need to slow down the rate of decline," Setz said. The cost of their proposal will be used to fund aquifer replenishment, a process that returns water to the aquifer through a huge network of soaking ponds. But the fund will go a step further, Seitz continued, providing assistance to families that have lost water, such as Paups.
"We feel sympathy for them," Setz told me later. "In a way, we know we are responsible."
After leaving the capital, Setz made himself feel, as he said, just "cautiously hopeful." Watching the unfolding of the water war seemed to make some state representatives afraid to intervene, and the cattle-raising and ranch lobby groups strongly opposed any regulatory changes, whether regional. Feeling that the bill might fail, the farmers stopped in Roadhouse, Texas, drank a few rounds of beer, tried to remedy the problem in a democratic way, and were comforted. "We don't want the government to be too involved," Setz told me, "but for things like this, the government really needs to be involved in water issues." This is the only way to prevent conflicts between neighbors. A few months later, after the legislative session was over, Seitz learned that the proposal had never been drafted into the form of a bill.
At the beginning of December last year, on a cold and cloudy morning in the desert, I climbed into the cab of a Dean Bales 1984 Mack truck. Bells is a 79-year-old thin man with a pencil-thin moustache and a hunched body like a lifelong tinker. For 35 years, he had been dragging mobile homes in Severn, North Carolina, until the contaminated well caused kidney failure before he focused on moving west. Watching the crisis in the valley worsen, he was shocked that few people could survive the drought, and in 2015 decided to start a water supply service by modifying his truck to load two 750-gallon water tanks. When he started patrolling, he was wrapped in a checkered overalls, chewed on gummy bears, and put a few into his mouth like a tobacco bag. After filling up the fuel tank, we headed east, passing by a few trucks dragging our fuel tanks, and the water shook around when it bumped on the dirt road. Soon after, we also started to pass the drilling platform, which was 50 feet above the road and sprayed mud. Some drilling platforms are only a quarter of a mile away from Bells’s wells, which not only provide water for the people he fetches, but also serve about 30 households. This proximity worried him. He was already paranoid about the citizens pumping his water. "If I knew what this place was like, I wouldn't have moved here," he said. On the road, signs warned that "At 25 miles an hour, there may be a crack in the earth."
In the past few years, the delivery of Bells has been the only water safety measure for many households in the valley (including Papps). The 525 gallons of gasoline he delivered to them every week still needed to be rationed, but the appearance of the tank allowed them to return to normal for the first time in years. When we arrived at their home, just after 8 o'clock in the morning, Bales and David Paup brought a new 1,000-gallon auxiliary fuel tank to fill the tank with the researched conventional efficiency. As Paups' fear of dehydration subsided, a sense of fatalism had settled in its place. "When everything is over, they will leave," Craig said, referring to the farmers. "And we are all trapped here? Nothing."
When Paups entered their fourth year without running water, they faced an inevitable problem: their home. The costs associated with transporting water to their home cost them nearly $200 a month, which actually increased their mortgage payments by 50%. A small amount of spending—laundromats, bottled water, air-conditioning—started to increase, and Craig was forced to take a month-long trucking route on the East Coast. Unable to recover the four-year equity they invested in their homes, they cannot move on without it, and they feel trapped. Since the possibility of selling the house or seeking compensation is very small, Lori and Craig began to talk about abandoning it. In the past few years, they have seen dozens of neighbors leave their property, including a close friend Billy Frisbee (Billy Frisbee) whose camper truck caught fire when a well pump filled with sand caught fire. . Many empty houses are just a few blocks away, and piles of furniture and clothes can still be seen inside.
In March, Paups received an offer to become the caretaker of the ranch a mile away. The pasture occupies 11 acres, with a mobile home similar to their own and a newly dug well. Despite this, Lowry still hesitated. "It's hard to know where to go," she told me. "Because there is agriculture everywhere." Earlier that month, Riverview, the valley's largest water user, announced plans to double its local dairy business and add another 8,000 cows to its 20,000 acres, some of which are almost the same as Paups. Potential new home borders. Looking at the real estate on Google Earth surrounded by bright green wheat fields, Lowry felt that this move might be a gamble. But the same is true for staying. After discussions with the family, Paups left the house on East Hopi Avenue in late April and moved to the ranch.
Before moving, the first thing Lowry did was walk into the kitchen to test the water pressure. "It's very nerve-racking," she told me when we were talking on the phone a few weeks later. "You want to know what happens when you open the sink. What that might mean." She has been scared of this moment for several days. The thought of this made her numb. After a while, she recovered and turned on the faucet. The water poured out, crystal clear.
Currently, the ranch has tap water. But Paup continues to perform most of the same protection procedures as before: use grey water and take a quick shower. As Lori pointed out, their situation remains essentially unchanged: waiting for protective measures as the aquifer retreats quietly below them. "I want to stay somewhere permanent," Lowry said during our last conversation. "finally."
Amidst the tensions in Wilcox, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced the establishment of a water protection committee aimed at groundwater safety and reform. Even so, this year the state legislature has only introduced two rural groundwater bills. Among other things, everyone is proposing to abolish the regulations to make way for the development of 7,000 and 28,000 households outside Sulfur Spring Valley, respectively. In its promotional video for owning vineyards and at least one golf course, the developer described southeastern Arizona as "the country's best kept secret."