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.
Water from the Colorado River is used to irrigate crops in Cibola, Arizona.
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.
In a court-filed response to the counties’ lawsuit, DOJ attorneys argued that Reclamation’s environmental assessment “fully satisfied” the National Environmental Policy Act. It convincingly demonstrated that the transfer would not result in any significant impacts to the environment: at most, it will result in a trivial reduction (for less than half the year) in the flows in one stretch of the Lower Colorado River.”
After hearing arguments from the counties’ attorneys and DOJ attorneys on Wednesday, US District Judge Michael Liburdi said he will make a ruling on the lawsuit in late April.
A farmer in Cibola, Arizona, cuts down harvested cotton crops in preparation for the next growing season.
“Greenstone is going to make millions at the expense of what it’s going to do to our communities in the future and the precedence it’s going to set,” said Irwin. “We are in the midst of an extreme drought, our communities need this water. At some point, the state has a responsibility to protect the people that are here and to protect our water and not cater to those that are buying property for the water rights to make millions off of it to benefit metropolitan areas.”
Grady Gammage, an attorney representing Greenstone, told CNN in a statement that its “proposal was recommended for approval by the Arizona Department of Water Resources after extensive hearing and comment” and “has no impact on the potential of cities along the river to grow.
“As property owners, my clients hold a water right,” Gammage said. “This is the same as all the farmers along the river, who hold land that has been irrigated, in most cases for over 100 years. That water right is valuable property, which can be transferred. It’s like buying and selling land, except that, Colorado River water can only be transferred if it goes through an extensive review process at both the State and Federal Levels. Any proposed transfer is independently analyzed.”
The Colorado River in Mohave Valley, Arizona.
In neighboring Mohave County, Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter describes what he sees as a battle for the future of Colorado River communities, adding that a number of East Coast investment firms have been trying to get in on the action.
“These companies are actually pretty savvy in that they come out West, purchase and pick up cheap rural agricultural land, they sit on it for a little while and then they’re trying to sell the water,” Lingenfelter said. “I don’t think that they should be allowed to profiteer off of Arizona’s finite resources … If they’re coming after a portion of our only water supply on the river for many of our communities, we have to fight it.”
Rebecca Noble for CNN
Wells are running dry in drought-weary Southwest as foreign-owned farms guzzle water to feed cattle overseas
It’s not just Arizona. East Coast firms have bought up thousands of acres of irrigated land across the Southwest, local officials told CNN. Water Asset Management, a New York-based investment firm, has become one of the biggest players in the field, with purchases in Arizona, California, Colorado and Nevada as well as pending deals in New Mexico and Texas.
Water Asset Management president Matt Diserio has called water in the United States “a trillion-dollar market opportunity,” and said he started the company “on the core belief that scarce clean water is the resource defining this century, much like plentiful, cheap dirty oil defined the last century.”
Water Asset Management describes its mission online as “investing in companies and assets that ensure water quality and availability.”
“Water Asset Management is proud of our investments in production agriculture and water in the American West,” company COO Marc Robert told CNN via email. “In the face of record shortages on the Colorado River, we have voluntarily answered urgent and repeated calls to conserve water. Moreover, we will continue to manage our assets in a manner that contributes to solutions to water scarcity and work actively to promote conservation.”
An irrigation canal adjacent to the Greenstone Management Partners property in Cibola, Arizona.
Cotton is grown in Cibola, Arizona.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River District Water District, disagrees, describing Water Asset Management and other East Coast investment firms as “drought profiteers.”
“They’re trying to suck the very lifeblood out of these communities for their own financial benefit,” Mueller said.
Water Asset Management owns at least 3,000 acres in Western Colorado’s Grand Valley, where Mueller works to protect Colorado’s share of the river. He said the full scale of the land grab is difficult to track because investment firms use different names to disguise ownership.
In deep-red corner of Arizona, threat of losing water starts to outweigh fear of regulation
“Water Asset Management has engaged in a number of different purchase methods to keep their transactions unknown to many of the local jurisdictions,” Mueller said. “It’s a very unpopular move to come from New York and invest in irrigated agriculture with the intent to dry it up and watch it blow away.”
The investment firm did not respond to CNN’s question about allegations it hides its land ownership by using names other than Water Asset Management. In property searches on county assessor websites in Mohave County and Mesa County in Colorado, no results were found when CNN searched for properties with the name Water Asset Management as the listed owner.
CNN found multiple properties in both counties under various names, such as WPI Hulet Farm AZ LLC, WPI II-GV6 Farm CO LLC and WPI-919 Farm AZ LLC, all of which have a mailing address that match the address for Water Asset Management’s headquarters in New York City.
The Colorado River in Eagle County, Colorado.
Kerry Donovan, a rancher in Eagle County, Colorado, and a former state senator.
Under a pilot program, the federal government has dedicated $125 million in drought-relief funds to pay Colorado River farmers and ranchers to conserve water by fallowing their land. The feds are also readying additional funding for short-term fallowing. Some are worried that outside investment firms could profit from such a program.
MARBLE CANYON, ARIZONA – JANUARY 1: Seen from atop the Historic Navajo Bridge the Colorado River flows toward Lees Ferry the only place within Glen Canyon where people are able to easily access the Colorado River from both sides in over 700 miles of Glen Canyon country on January 1, 2023 in Marble Canyon, Arizona. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post/Getty Images
A showdown over Colorado River water is setting the stage for a high-stakes legal battle
“That’s where I think we start to see this investment speculation, when these outside landholders get big dollars to grow nothing,” said Kerry Donovan, a rancher in Eagle County, Colorado, who tried to strengthen Colorado’s anti-speculation laws during her time as a state senator. “These companies don’t have the passion to grow crops, they have a passion to make money. It’s a very different land management mindset.”
Donovan now runs her family’s 400-acre Copper Bar Ranch, where she raises highland cattle along with her husband and two dogs. Like other farmers and ranchers in the state, she worries about how Wall Street will influence their future.
“It’s not their land, it’s not their legacy – it’s their bottom line,” Donovan said. “For me it’s personal because it’s my family’s land that we are fighting to preserve … and that could be in jeopardy when New York comes to play.
“One day they will sell that water off, which means the land would go out of agriculture production,” Donovan continued. “And they’ll sell when water is worth the most, which is when we have the least of it.”
Companies have been coming under increasing regulatory pressure to do more to encourage gender diversity and several leading banks are now led by women, including NatWest.
However, large financial institutions have employed few trans people in senior roles. Pips Bunce, an executive at Credit Suisse who identifies as gender fluid and has been named as an inspirational leader in the British LGBT Awards, is one of the few non-binary people to hold a senior position in the City of London.
Other financial companies have brought in policies in a bid to appear more inclusive.
Several high street banks, including NatWest, have trialled uniforms that include optional pronouns printed on badges.
The policies have provoked a backlash in some quarters. Halifax told customers last year “if you disagree with our values, you’re welcome to close your account” after some people took offence to the listing of favoured pronouns on staff badges.
In another instance of support for the trans community, PayPal froze the account of the Free Speech Union, an organisation that defends gender-critical academics and people who have lost work for expressing opinions.
However, the payments company later reversed the decision after being accused of a “orchestrated, politically motivated” ban.
Ms Tomlinson said that before she transitioned, she thought coming out as trans would end her career.
She said: “The idea of coming out of trans was terrifying, I thought it would be career suicide. I assumed it would blow up my career.
“But once I started leaning into my truth, I realised I had no other option. It was terrifying to do it first but it was also terrifying in many small ways, like going to my first big meeting or walking into a room for the first time and going through a client’s office. It was all just new and scary.”
Before setting up Saône, Ms Tomlinson, 37, founded several businesses including boutique advisory firm RWT Growth.
While she does not consider herself an “advocate” for trans people, she said she hopes her profile will encourage more trans people into the finance industry.
Ms Tomlinson said: “One of the things I really started to do was to embrace giving people the realisation that they can achieve it too, whether that’s being trans or whatever they have going on, they can be truthful to who they are.
“For me, there weren’t very many people that I saw in the community that I could look up to as role models. I want to provide some level of motivation and inspiration to people.”
Ms Tomlinson said Saône will not be marketed as a trans-led fund, adding: “I don’t like when you hear people talking about female founded funds or in my situation a trans female fund.
“I’m not interested in that because our performance should be our number one priority. It shouldn’t be about who I am.
“If we can use it to our benefit then it will maybe help normalise being trans in finance. But our number one goal is about making an impact and it’s not about me being a trans female founder.”
However, she argued that her being trans could still be a competitive advantage.
“Some founders are coming to us and saying ‘you get what we need, we can talk to you’. They understand that we realise what they’re going through, versus older white male-led businesses that can’t necessarily relate. It’s given us a competitive advantage in some ways.”
Saône invests in companies and provides advice. It specialises in funding and advising “ethical” companies and those with founders from minority backgrounds.
Ms Tomlinson currently splits her time between London and Canada, where she grew up and Saône has its main base.
The company, founded in 2022, already operates in the US and Canada. Its new London office will be used as its base to expand into Europe.
The fund manages $13m (£10.5m) at present, but is aiming to have $1bn under management by 2027.
Ms Tomlinson said: “Our goal is to help companies that are positively impacting the planet and those that are coming from underrepresented founders.”
Saône provides money to companies in several different industries, including renewable energy, battery storage, and clean water. Current investments include an e-scooter charging company and a marketplace for second hand clothing.
Ms Tomlinson said: “During my career, I had my own things to deal with obviously being trans. And as I stepped into my truth it dawned on me that I wanted to do something that was positive, rather than just making founder and leadership teams more money.
“We’re looking to back businesses that can make an impact while also making a lot of money and I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.”
The company’s investments so far have ranged between $250,000 and $5m.
Making sure that members of the Canadian Coast Guard have the equipment they need to keep Canada’s waterways navigable and safe is a key priority for the Government of Canada. That includes the Canadian Coast Guard’s small vessels, which play a critical role in our fleet, especially in shallow coastal waters and inland lakes and rivers where larger ships cannot operate.
Today, the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced a major investment to fund the completion of the renewal of the Canadian Coast Guard’s small vessels fleet.
The Honourable Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement also took part in the announcement from St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, along with Joanne Thompson, Member of Parliament for St. John’s East and Churence Rogers, Member of Parliament for Bonavista—Burin—Trinity. The investment, valued at $2.5 billion, provides for up to 61 small vessels and the ongoing replacement of small craft, barges and work boats with new modern equipment.
This investment will help modernize the Canadian Coast Guard’s small vessel fleet, so that they can keep Canadian waterways and Canadians safe, while creating good-paying jobs across Canada.
This investment will complete the renewal of the Canadian Coast Guard’s small vessels fleet and enable the Canadian Coast Guard to acquire up to:
Six Mid-shore Multi-Mission Vessels;
One Near-Shore Fishery Research Vessel;
16 Specialty Vessels comprised of:
Two Special NavAids Vessels;
Four Special Shallow Draft Buoy Tenders
Four Inshore Science Vessels
Four Special Enforcement Vessels
Two Lake Class Vessels;
Four Air Cushion Vehicles; and
34 Cape Class Search and Rescue Lifeboats.
The procurement of these small vessels will provide opportunities for smaller shipyards and suppliers across Canada, supporting good-paying jobs in our marine industry.
The National Shipbuilding Strategy is creating jobs in Canada’s shipbuilding industry and marine sector, and providing Canadian Coast Guard members with the equipment they need to continue their important work. Under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, 16 small vessels including 14 Search and Rescue lifeboats and two Channel Survey and Sounding Vessels have been delivered to the Canadian Coast Guard.
Contracts under the National Shipbuilding Strategy are estimated to have contributed approximately $21.26 billion ($1.93 billion annually) to Canada’s gross domestic product, and created or maintained over 18,000 jobs annually between 2012 and 2022.
“This is a critical investment that will help modernize the Canadian Coast Guard’s small vessel fleet. We are making sure the Canadian Coast Guard has the equipment it needs to keep Canadians and Canada’s waterways safe, while also creating good-paying jobs across the country.”
Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
“Through the National Shipbuilding Strategy, the government is providing the members of the Canadian Coast Guard with the ships they need to carry out their important work for Canadians. This significant investment also will create more jobs, generate significant economic benefits and help grow the marine industry throughout Canada.”
Helena Jaczek, Minister of Public Services and Procurement
BioScout’s technology can alert farmers that a disease is about to strike their crop. (Photo: Business Wire)
This investment will not only support the ongoing growth of BioScout within Australia, as well as facilitate their international growth — starting with their expansion into North America with offices in Saskatoon.
This investment followed BioScout’s participation in GAAP’s Navigate program in 2022, where CEO & Founder Lewis Collins and Head of Science Michelle Demers were able to spend an extended period within Canada, benefitting from GAAP’s customized programming and one-on-one concierge services. Their exploratory trip to Canada was an unbelievable success: while here they met with investors, farmers and other industry experts.
BioScout’s product can find the “unseeable” and react to disease presence weeks before it could impact the yield of your crop. Seeing real-time and pre-symptomatic disease data allows the end-user to save yield and minimize fungicide resistance. With the airborne disease tracking platform, farmers are alerted when disease is going to strike and learn what they can do about it. BioScout catches and analyzes air particles to let farmers know what is happening in their field.
“We are very excited to expand BioScout into Canada and deliver our world-first disease detection and management technologies to Canadian growers. Canada’s dynamic agricultural sector is a perfect fit for BioScout sharing our values, culture and aspirations for profitable and sustainable farming. Partnering with GAAP(Navigate) has given BioScout the opportunity to accelerate our expansion into Canada and base ourselves within the Saskatchewan community. BioScout is now working with local growers and scientists to enable our technology to best serve Canadian farmers.” Lewis Collins, CEO, BioScout.
The team at GAAP is very excited to work with BioScout and their new innovative product. GAAP sees BioScout as a huge new player in the area of disease detection and sustainable practices. By detecting diseases weeks before they start to affect your crop and yields, BioScout can help farmers across Canada and North America to reduce the use of sprays. BioScout has applications in many crops including broad acre crop production, vineyards and fruit and vegetable production.