This story was originally published by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, and was co-published with The Desert Sun.
Craig Elmore’s family history is the stuff of Westerns. His grandfather, John Elmore, a poor son of a Missouri preacher, arrived in California’s Imperial Valley in 1908 and dug ditches to deliver water to homesteaders.
Thanks to his marriage to a citrus magnate’s daughter, reputed good fortune as a gambler, and business acumen, he amassed the Elmore Desert Ranch, part of roughly 12,000 acres that two branches of the family still farm.
All that land in the blazing-hot southeastern corner of California came with a huge bonanza: water from the Colorado River. In 2022, the present-day Elmores consumed an estimated 22.5 billion gallons, according to a Desert Sun and ProPublica analysis of satellite data combined with business and agricultural records. That’s almost as much as the entire city of Scottsdale, Arizona, is allotted.