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Wall Street Dives into Western Water Scarcity for Profit



The small town of Cibola, Arizona depends on the Colorado River to feed thirsty crops like cotton and alfalfa, and sustains a nearby wildlife refuge. (Shutterstock)
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Cibola, a small town in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, is experiencing a land and water rights conflict as East Coast investment firms, including MassMutual subsidiary Greenstone Management Partners, purchase land in the region.

Critics argue that these firms are exploiting Cibola’s limited water resources for profit, especially during a period of extreme drought and reduced Colorado River water allocation for Arizona.

One controversial deal involves Greenstone’s $27 million transfer of Colorado River water from its Cibola properties to Queen Creek, a growing Phoenix suburb 200 miles away. The transfer is currently the subject of a lawsuit filed by La Paz, Mohave, and Yuma counties against the federal Bureau of Reclamation.

East Coast investment firms are also buying up land across the Southwest. New York-based Water Asset Management has made acquisitions in Arizona, California, Colorado, and Nevada, with pending deals in New Mexico and Texas.

Critics, like Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District Water District, describe these firms as “drought profiteers” who aim to extract profits from the region’s water scarcity.

Concerns have been raised that outside investment firms could benefit from a federal government pilot program providing $125 million in drought-relief funds to pay Colorado River farmers and ranchers for water conservation through fallowing their land.