By Lucy Kafanov || CNN
Situated in the Sonoran Desert near the Arizona-California border is the tiny rural town of Cibola – home to roughly 300 people, depending on the season.
Life here depends almost entirely on the Colorado River, which nourishes thirsty crops like cotton and alfalfa, sustains a nearby wildlife refuge and allows visitors to enjoy boating and other recreation.
It’s a place few Americans are likely to have heard of, which made it all the more surprising when investment firm Greenstone Management Partners bought nearly 500 acres of land here. On its website, Greenstone says its “goal is to advance water transactions that benefit both the public good and private enterprise.”
But critics accuse Greenstone – a subsidiary of the East Coast financial services conglomerate MassMutual – of trying to profit off Cibola’s most precious and limited resource: water. And it comes at a time when Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water is being slashed amid a decadeslong megadrought.
“These companies aren’t buying up plots of land because they want to farm here and be a part of the community, they’re buying up land here for the water rights,” said Holly Irwin, a Cibola resident and La Paz County district supervisor.
Cibola, Arizona, is home to around 300 people depending on the season. Its residents depend almost entirely on water from the Colorado River.
Those water rights could soon benefit Queen Creek, Arizona, a growing Phoenix suburb about 200 miles away. Last September, the town approved the transfer of a $27 million purchase of Colorado River water from Greenstone’s properties in Cibola, though the deal is now mired in a lawsuit filed by La Paz, Mohave and Yuma counties against the federal Bureau of Reclamation for signing off on the water transfer.
The Bureau of Reclamation referred all lawsuit questions to the Department of Justice, which did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.