These 7 industrial farm operations are draining Arizona's aquifers, and no one knows exactly how much they're taking
The last time Regina Cobb traveled east of the Kingman airport toward the Peacock Mountains, the area was mostly unspoiled desert where cattle grazed on the sparse Mojave Desert vegetation.
She had driven up the dusty rural road to store a bighorn sheep she killed on a hunt.
Returning to the area 10 months later, she was shocked that the high desert landscape of cresote and cholla was now a 850-acre pistachio farm where more than 125,000 saplings had been planted.
Along each row of waist-high saplings, long black irrigation tubes stretched out to connect the seemingly endless trees and nourish them with water.
“If you look straight down these rows it goes back as far as the eye can see,” Cobb said. “It boggles the mind how many trees are out here.”
Peacock Nuts, a consortium that includes the largest permanent crop nursery in the United States, has even bigger plans: 4,500 acres and as many as 650,000 pistachio trees.
“There’s no way we have enough water to be able to handle that,” Cobb said.
In Kingman, as in most of rural Arizona, there are no rules on groundwater pumping. As long as you get a permit, you can drill a well of any size for any purpose as long as it’s for a beneficial use. Agriculture easily qualifies, even if the crops are shipped out of state for profit.
Peacock Nuts is one of seven corporate farms identified by The Arizona Republic as major agricultural groundwater users in Arizona. They include private-equity firms, investment funds focused on agriculture, and foreign food companies, mirroring the nationwide trend of big capital driving the ag industry and leading to larger farms.