The Sinking Arizona Town Where Water and Politics Collide

In Arizona’s deeply conservative La Paz County, the most urgent issue facing many voters is not inflation or illegal immigration. It is the water being pumped from under their feet.

Giant farms have turned Arizona’s remote deserts about 100 miles west of Phoenix as green as fairways — the product of extracting an ocean of groundwater to grow alfalfa for dairy cows. Water experts say the pumping is sinking poor rural towns. The ground in parts of La Paz County has dropped more than five feet during three decades of farming. Pipes and home foundations are cracking. Wells are running dry.

“What’s going to happen if they take all the water?” asked Luis Zavala, 48, who emigrated from Mexico two decades ago to pick cantaloupes, another water-intensive crop that has been mostly replaced by hay for cows. Now, he works at a water and ice business in Salome, population 700, selling five-gallon jugs.

Even as political battles over abortion consume Arizona’s Capitol, Democrats have seized on water as a life-or-death election issue that they hope gives them an opening — however slight — to reach out to rural voters who abandoned the party.

“Water made me attorney general,” said Kris Mayes, a first-term Democrat who campaigned on cracking down on farms in western Arizona. “This is exactly the kind of issue we can win back some of rural America.”

Summers of record-setting heat and drought have raised doubts for many Arizonans about whether the state has enough water to sustain its farms and fast-growing cities.

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