Workers with the water district in Wenden, Arizona, saw something remarkable last year as they slowly lowered a camera into the drought-stricken town’s well: The water was moving.
But the aquifer which sits below the small desert town in the southwestern part of the state is not a river; it’s a massive, underground reservoir which stores water built up over thousands of years. And that water is almost always still.
Gary Saiter, a longtime resident and head of the Wenden Water Improvement District, said the water was moving because it was being pumped rapidly out of the ground by a neighboring well belonging to Al Dahra, a United Arab Emirates-based company farming alfalfa in the Southwest.
Al Dahra did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
“The well guys and I have never seen anything like this before,” Saiter told CNN. The farm was “pumping and it was sucking the water through the aquifer.”
Groundwater is the lifeblood of the rural Southwest, but just as the Colorado River Basin is in crisis, aquifers are rapidly depleting from decades of overuse, worsening drought and rampant agricultural growth.
Residents and farms pull water from the same underground pools, and as the water table declines, the thing determining how long a well lasts is how deeply it was drilled.