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Westlands deadbeat millionaire drought “victims” send subsidized ag water to LA while LA billionaire’s firm sucks rural Californians’ wells dry

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kirk Murphy

Just last year Westlands Water District cried "drought" to overturn Federal enviro law. They also cried "drought" trying to take water from far more productive farmers on the Delta…who have senior rights.

Westlands cried "drought" so well and so often their millionaire welfare farmers (who harvest triple Federal subsidies from cheap ag water, below-market electricity to run their vast irrigation pumps, and USDA crop subsidies) became FOX’s poster child for getting the Feds and EPA to leave those oppressed land owners alone. After FOX’ breathless coverage – kinda like a Tea Party brewed with ag runoff – I don’t really trust them to tell us last year’s victims are now exporting the Valley’s scarce ag water to LA’s lawns.

Here’s how the deal would work: Westlands would send 50,000 to 100,000 acre-feet to Metropolitan, delivering it through the California Aqueduct. That is less than 10% of Westlands’ federal contract allotment. One acre-foot is an 18-month supply for an average family in Southern California.

Can we trust Westlands? As veteran journalist Lloyd G. Carter’s told us for years, we’re still wating for them to pay up the 490 million they’ve owed taxpayers for decades. For Westlands’ share of the Federal project they asked taxpayers to build for them. What project? Oh, just the same public project that enables Westlands to swap subsidized ag water with LA.

Forget it, Jake. It’s the Delta.

In other news of LA and uber-wealthy water bandits, Kern County Water Agency and the Kern Water Bank are pumping out ancient aquifers so fast that the local water table has fallen hundreds of feet. Which is what happens when you pump groundwater faster than it can be recharged. Bakersfield Cailfornian columnist Lois Henry described the results.

Beeson recalled how his father farmed in the area for decades until he quit because the water table had dropped more than 100 feet over a 30-year span.

"Now, we’re talking about the water table dropping hundreds of feet in three years from them pumping our water out all because of greed!" Beeson said.

When the water table falls hundreds of feet, another thing happens: wells go dry. And regular people’s homes and small farms become worthless.

The Goose Lake well is 260 feet deep. It’s old but they had it worked on just last year and everything was fine.

Because of its age, Kaspar said, they can’t just have the well lowered. The community will have to kick in to drill a whole new well in a different location to 800 feet. Cost is about $110 a foot, plus electrical, piping and other costs.

That’s a lot of money for something that didn’t have to happen, not only to this community but to the dozen or so other families who’ve already been down this road.

"Oh my gosh! Those poor people," was Ana Lopez’s reaction when she heard about this latest well going dry.

She and her husband, Paul, have been struggling to keep their home and care for their four children since their community well dried up around Christmastime.

The Lopezes are trying to save enough to hook into Vaughn’s system. But it’s expensive, around $10,000. Most other residents in her neighborhood have already packed up and left.

But wait, there’s more.

Unfortunately, the outlook isn’t good, according to Eric Averett, general manager of Rosedale-Rio Bravo.

The area where wells are going belly up seems to be expanding, he said. Besides the Goose Lake well, he said he had calls on two other wells last week.

He expects more calls as the groundwater continues to drain toward pumping depressions created by the water banks, which are tucked along Rosedale-Rio Bravo’s southern edge.

The banking projects have ceased pumping this summer as an above average snowfall year has brought more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to area farms and Southern California cities.

But the void created by previous pumping is so great it’s still sucking groundwater from surrounding lands, according to Averett.

The district’s groundwater expert believes it could take years before the water table stops declining beneath the Rosedale area, Averett said.

"What we’re seeing now is just the initial wave of people affected."

What does all this have to do with LA and billionaires? Ask DiFi’s pal Stuart Resnick…the billionaire who controls the Kern Water Bank.

The Resnicks, who live in a Beverly Hills mansion and have a second home in Aspen, Colo., are among the nation’s largest corporate farmers and are generous philanthropists and political donors, giving $536,000 to Democratic and Republican California governors in the last decade.

The Los Angeles Business Journal estimates the couple’s empire is worth $1.5 billion. It includes about 120,000 acres in California’s Central Valley — where they say they own more fresh citrus, almond and pistachio trees than anyone else in the country — and a facility akin to the Fort Knox of water…..

As drought has hammered the region, leading farmers to abandon their dry fields, the Resnicks’ 48 percent stake in the Kern Water Bank, an underground pool that stores billions of gallons of freshwater, has become increasingly valuable.

Court records show that in 2007, the Resnicks’ companies’ combined water holdings reached 755,868 acre feet — more than twice the size of San Francisco’s Hetch Hetchy reservoir. In 2007, that volume would have qualified as California’s 11th largest reservoir, but the firms’ water holdings have diminished since, company officials said.

How did one man get so much water?

The Kern Water Bank, 15 miles west of Bakersfield, Calif., is
the largest underground water storage facility in the nation. The state ceded ownership to users in Kern County.

And how did California just happen to "cede" – that’s fancy legal-talk for "give-away", right? – precious public water to "users in Kern County"?

Resnick and other water users in agricultural Kern County gained control of the Kern bank — the largest underground water storage facility in the nation — in the mid 1990s, following a round of negotiations with the state Department of Water Resources. Their position was that the state had shorted rural areas in allotting water in a previous drought.To avoid potential litigation from unhappy water users, state officials ceded ownership of the Kern Water Bank — developed with $74 million from the department and $23 million in taxpayer-approved bonds — to a local water agency. In return, water users gave back 45,000 acre feet from the amount they contracted to receive each year.

The deal was a pivotal moment in the rise of the Resnicks’ business interests. Ownership of the bank was transferred to a joint powers authority including the local water agency, the Resnicks’ Westside Mutual Water Co. and four water districts.

That pivotal deal? Ummm….Center For Biological Diversity’s challenged the whole scam. Turns out the California officals who permanently gave away the state’s Water bank didn’t have authority to do so. Dan Bacher has the details.

The “Monterey Amendments,” signed secretly in 1995 without any public input, were successfully challenged in court. The courts ruled the contract changes, deeding of portions of the State Water Project known as the Kern Water Bank, and removal of protections for southern California ratepayers would not be valid until a new analysis of the impacts had public review and was certified as complete.

“These contract changes break promises made to bond holders and ratepayers,” said Carolee Krieger, President and Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN). “These changes undo decades of urban ratepayer protections for the benefit of a few agribusiness corporations and real estate developments at the expense of ratepayers and bondholders.”

Last month CBD and other plaintiffs including the California Recreational Sportfishing Association and Delta-area water agencies filed suit to reverse the secret deal that gave away billions of infrastructure and public water to the Kern Water Bank’s private owners – including billionaire Stuart Resnick. Bacher again:

The suit challenges the legality of the following:

• Institutionalizing the concept of “paper water” – water promised by contract that can never realistically be delivered.

• Eliminating the “urban preference,” which prioritized water deliveries to municipal customers during drought. This change resulted in water shortages and higher utility rates for southern California ratepayers.

• Increasing water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, thus worsening water quality.

• Illegally transferring state property known as the Kern Water Bank to private entities and undermining the California Water Code by masking the purpose and place of water.

The lawsuit seeks to “reinstate the urban water preference during drought in State Water Project contracts, reduce the pumping of Delta water that has resulted in the collapse of fisheries, and return the Kern Water Bank to public ownership,” the groups said.

Defendants in the lawsuit include the Kern County Water Agency, Kern County Water Bank Authority, Paramont Farming Company, Roll International Corporation, Tejon Ranch Company, Westside Mutual Water Company, Alameda County Water District, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and a host of other water contractors…..

“The State Water Project and the Kern Water Bank were developed by the state, at ratepayer expense, to benefit all of California—our cities, our farms, and our fish,” said Adam Keats, lead attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But with the Monterey Plus Amendments it has been hijacked by private interests who are using it for their own ends, including stockpiling water to enable destructive speculative development.”

CBD’s suit comes just in time. Resnick and the Westlands’ deadbeat millionaires joined with the billionaire Bechtels’ permanent mega-construction lobby to push Arnold, the ambitious termed-out Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, and Senate Leader Steinberg to cram a huge water bond on this November’s ballot. The Speaker’s office pushed the bond measure through the California Legislature with enough speed and secrecy that many Legislators never read the bond.

No wonder Karen Bass wanted to hurry. Turns out the bond measure she rushed through allows private water brokers to take control of the billions of dollars of public works – and even more billions worth of public water – the Water Bond measure puts on the public tab

If they can get California’s taxpayer to vote to pick up the multi-billion dollar tab.

…according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the bond allows for the creation of joint powers authorities that "may include in their membership governmental and nongovernmental partners that are not located within their respective hydrologic regions in financing the surface storage projects."

Those authorities would "own, govern, manage and operate a surface storage project."

"That’s very, very dangerous because that … opens the door to the privatization of water," said Carolee Krieger, president of the California Water Impact Network, a water consumer advocacy organization.

"If someone is doing this privately they are doing it for their own profit … and if there is a profit motive there, the price is going to go up for everyone."

Of course, the price won’t go up if you can get everyone else to cover your tab. No wonder billionaire Resnick and the Westlands deadbeat millionaires were in such a hurry to see the Water Bond on the ballot. We pay for the public works project they’ll use to take our subsidized ag water and turn around and sell it back to California’s cities at a huge mark-up. And the same taxpayers who pay off the water bond will pay higher rates for their water.

What’s not to like? Ask Ana Lopez’ ex-neighbors – the people who had to abandon their now worthless homes when the Kern Water District and billionaire Kenneth Resnick’s Water Bank pumped away their aquifers.

Hey, buddy – you want to buy subsidized public water? I can get it for you cheap…..

Will Obama and Harry Reid back DiFi’s secret deal to sell billions of publicly owned water to her wealthy donor?

4:51 pm in Politics by Kirk Murphy

Last night Sen Diane Feinstein (D-Billionaires) announced her last minute secret deal to revoke Federal environmental law and a century of Western water law so that we taxpayers can subsidize a few hundred deadbeat welfare millionaires and one billionaire in California’s Central Valley.

In keeping with her visceral contempt for representative democracy and the citizens she purports to represent, Lord DiFi plans to push through her multi-billion dollar giveaway as a rider on the fast track Senate jobs bill.

Feinstein has long supported California agriculture but began to weigh in on the side of farmers in the water wars after requests from Stewart Resnick, the well-connected owner of Paramount Farms, which grows citrus and nuts on 118,000 acres in Kern County.

In September, Resnick wrote Feinstein complaining that "sloppy science" by federal wildlife agencies was causing farm water shortages. A week later, Feinstein forwarded the letter to Obama administration officials, who authorized a review by the National Academy of Sciences….

Feinstein made no mention Thursday of her demand for the National Academy of Sciences report, due next month, to verify the science behind fish-conservation demands.

Resnick’s business has given $29,000 to Feinstein’s campaigns and $246,000 more to Democratic political committees during years when she sought re-election, according to a report by California Watch, an investigative journalism nonprofit organization, that was published in The Chronicle in December.

DiFi’s billioniare donor Stewart Resnick will do very well from DiFi’s last-minute deal. You see, Resnick’s not merely a farmer: Resnick’s a water broker.

The Kern Water Bank, which was owned by the state Department of Water Resources from 1988 to 1995, is now in the hands of Kern County interests and is 48 percent owned by Westside Mutual Water Company, a private water company controlled by Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick.

And DiFi’s giveaway will give him and the few hundred deadbeat welfare farmers who own the Westlands Water District cheap public subsidized water. Water the billionaire and the deadbeat millionaires can turn around and sell to the public who once owned it, and still pay for the infrastucture that collects it. Water the billioniare and the deadbeat welfare millionaires can sell at market rates – which means they’ll make tens of billions. From the public who own the water DiFi wants to give away with her last minute rider on the jobs bill.

DiFi’s muliti-billion giveaway piggybacks on the Shock Doctrine campaign Fox , the Westland Water District‘s few hundred millionaire owners, and a few mega-wealthy Kern County water brokers are waging to take publicly subsidized Federal and State Water Project water away from the taxpayers who own it and turn over control of the resource to a relative handful of private players.

The private players have been beavering away to make certain they can sell off DiFi’s giveaway at market rates…to the same taxpayers who owned the water before DiFi gave it away. And the billions in profits the private beneficiaries of DiFi’s giveaway will make will come from – you guessed it – the public who now own the water DiFi wants to give away.

Of course, DiFi hasn’t been alone in laying the groundwork for private Water Lords to take control of the most essential public resource: water. A couple of months ago CA’s pliant, ambitious Assembly Speaker Karen Bass joined lawmakers on both sides of the aisle (Take a bow, Jared Huffman of Marin County! Stand up proud, Abel Maldonado!) and the usual cast of PEW-captured Big Green groups (hi NRDC and EDF – thanks for nothing!) to help Arnold make his own end run around democracy and place before CA’s voters a mega-billion bond measure that effectively gives over control of California’s vast Delta to a tiny unelected group, ostensibly guided by the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. Who pushed hardest for the scam? You guessed it: the same tiny handful of millionaire/billionaire welfare farmers DiFi’s deal will benefit.

Now Jared Huffman is shocked, shocked – and EDF are crying like babies. Why, EDF’s so mad they want to take their access and go home.

” … Ann Hayden, a senior water analyst at Environmental Defense Fund, said her group would quit the conservation planning process if the Feinstein amendment passes.

She called it an act of betrayal, since some water interests on the committee undoubtedly asked Feinstein for the amendment.

“It doesn’t help to know that folks we’re partnering with are playing it both ways,” Hayden said. “It will make the long-term planning almost meaningless if, in the short term, actions are taken that push some species to the point of extinction.” … “

Meanwhile, outside the PEW neutered groups and captive pols, ordinary folk saw Arnie’s grand plan clearly.

"However, the Schwarzenegger plan to build a 50 mile- long
canal will not generate any new water
, abdicates any
meaningful oversight, cedes absolute authority to faceless
bureaucrats and will cost over $10 billion, even more once you
add mitigation and restoration costs. The language in this
legislation does nothing to change those facts," added Minton.

Representatives from the Sierra Club California, Restore the
Delta, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, Friends
of the River and the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water
joined PCL in expressing concern over the fact that the
Legislature developed these bills (SB229 – Pavley; SB12 -
Simitian; AB39 – Huffman; and SB458 – Wolk) with no public
input and their worry that the bills will be rushed through in the
last three weeks of the legislative session.

"There is no question that the Delta is in crisis and we
must find a way to work together to save the Delta and
the San Francisco Bay," Minton noted. "But there has
to be a better way than jamming this down the public’s
throat and asking them to pay billions for a project
they haven’t had any say in at a time when the state
has been issuing IOU’s, cutting back on schools, and
shutting down parks."

Too bad Assembly Speaker Bass and Rep. Jared Huffman and EDF and NRDC and their pals ignored all the grass-roots enviros who spent months warning them Arnie’s push was merely a giant giveaway to BiggestAg and Hugest Contractors. Of course, for groups like EDF and NRDC who long ago drank the PEW kool-aid, the name of the game isn’t winning: it’s keeping that all important access.

Cause Power cares so much about their opinions, right? That’s why, when Power fucks them over, they’ll give up – you guessed it! – their precious access. Cause it was worth trading away the Delta for, right? Sure.

I’d call them suckers, but that would reflect poorly on fish.

The bond issue Speaker Karen Bass personally made it possible for Arnold to put before California voters gives voters the opportunity to vote for them to pay dozens of billions to subsidize the construction required for Westlands Water District and DiFi’s billionaire supporter to make maximun profits selling public water on the private market – to the taxpayers very own water districts.

Karen Bass ran for office touting her environmental justice credentials. As Speaker, she used her Power to ram through the Delta scam over the objections of the poor folks with the temerity to actually live in the Delta. (What do those cheeky proles think they’re doing living in the way of the billionaires’ new construction project, Arnie’s Ditch To Nowhere?)

Fortunately, despite decades of Grover Norquist’s jihad against public education, even CA’s low-info voters will likely see through the con job and vote down the bond issues. Unless, of course, they buy the Shock Doctrine propaganda FOX and DiFi and Arnie are selling. Yet buried in the (one hopes) doomed bond measure is a sneaky little bit of text effectively allowing the few hundered deadbeat owners of the Westlands Water District and DiFi’s mega-donor Resnick to resell the public water DiFi hopes to give them with her rider on the Jobs Bill.

Whatever happens to the execrable bond issue Speaker Karen Bass made possible – and lets hope it sinks – look for the water resale legislation to keep floating to the surface….like the 77,000 bloated, putrid salmon who clogged the lower Klamath in 2002 after Cheney ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to join his Shock Doctrine war against the Federal Endangered Species Act.

Together with Arnie and his new BFF Abel Maldonado, Dems Jared Huffman, Fran Pavley, and Speaker Karen Bass were able to push through the water bond issue scam in no large part because the Fox propaganda network had spent months spewing Shock Doctrine. Fox hypes the 2009/2010 Big Fish Lie about California’s water: fish kill farms. This year’s Big Fish Lie echoes Cheney’s earlier secret effort to destroy Klamath River salmon protections just in time for Shrub to show up in the upper Klamath Basin and try to win Ag voters by punching the Endangered Species Act full of holes. Fox hyped that scam, too.

No surprise that in announcing her multi-billion dollar giveaway rider, DiFi parroted Fox’s Biggest Lies about California’s water.

Over the last few years, 400,000 acres of farmland have been fallowed, permanent crops uprooted, and tens of thousands of people are unemployed.

In the real world, turns out the 400,000 acres DiFi claims were fallowed by decreased Federal/State water supply – well – they don’t seem to exist.

In the real world the few hundred wealthy landowners who control the Westlands Water District in CA’s San Joaquin Valley have stiffed the US Treasury – that’s us, the taxpayers – for nearly half a billion dollars. You see, they just never got around to paying back their share of the Federal Water Project. The same Water Project they and Fox want us to believe has made the poor millionaires into neglected victims.

In the real world, the deadbeat owners of Westlands Water District – one-quarter the size of Connecticut – run vast welfare farms, collecting triple Federal subsidies: for the water wasting commodity crops they grow, for subsidized electricity to pump the below-market water, and for the subsidized water. And they get the subsidies even though they’ve blown off their debt to the Feds.

In the real world, the few hundred deadbeat welfare farmers who own the Westlands Water District propped up their astroturf group, the California Latino Water Coalition, to tell us all how we need to give away public wealth to help Westlands help the poor Latino farmworkers who get to suck down pesticides while they work for next to nothing on Westlands farmland.

As I wrote last May for FDL:

A pretty good joke, considering that the tiny ag communities where many of Westlands’ farm workers and their families have lived for decades are the Appalachia of the west. Unemployment rates over 30%, median income less than $8,000, massive pesticide exposure, and very high rates of cancer, infertility, and learning disorders associated with ag chemicals (from Westlands District farmers) were normal in these communities even before the last three years of drought. Because the few hundred wealthy families who own Westlands love their farmworkers so much.

In the real world, Associate Professor Jeffery Michael – director of the University of the Pacific’s Business Resource Center – sees though the lie. Westlands, along with nearly every other big farmers in the San Joaquin Valley, fuck over their farmworkers even when water’s abundant.

Water contractors point to 40 percent unemployment in Mendota as evidence of the water crisis. These unemployment estimates for towns aren’t a current survey, but are crude extrapolations from the 2000 Census, the last time any real data were compiled for these areas….

Delta water exports were above average in 2000, and local farm employment was at a nine-year peak. Despite this, the 2000 census found unemployment in Mendota exceeded 32 percent, highest of the state’s 494 towns.

Per-capita income was below $8,000, the lowest level in the state, nearly 20 percent lower than Mexico and many developing nations in Africa, Eastern Europe and South America. Not surprisingly, water contractors don’t issue news releases about unemployment when they have water.

In the real world, as Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute wrote, California’s California’s robust agricultural sector added farm jobs even as Westside Water District farmers (whose water rights are junior to other water users) received less water.

. . . the drought has had very little overall impact on agricultural employment, compared to the much larger impacts of the recession. In fact, in the last three years, while State Water Project allocations have decreased statewide, California’s agricultural job sector has grown (see figure). Further, according to Professor Jeffrey Michael, director of the Business Forecasting Center at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, rising unemployment in the Central Valley is largely the result of the bad economy, not a lack of water.

In the real world, several years ago, so many Westlands Water District nut farmers planted new trees that in the subsequent years the farmers created a "nut glut". Then prices crashed, decreasing ag jobs. Because of this market failure, life is even harder for the people of Mendota than it was before.

What’s the biggest priority for FOX’s new pal, the Latino Water Coalition? Food, water, and air free of pesticides? Nope. The LWC’s biggest priority? Suspending the Endangered Species Act and getting more water for the Westlands Water District, the official victim for FOX’s May sweeps.

OK, that was last May. What are those "junior water rights" Dr. Gleick referred to? Well, in the real world, Western water rights are first come, first serve: and Westlands is at the end of the line. You see, the State Water Project supplies "back-up" water. The SWP was created with the explicit intent it would provide water when possible, but in dry years there would be no water for junior users. Like the Westlands Water District.

Which is why planting trees – the plants that require water every year, unlike annual food crops – was a boneheadedly stupid business decision for the deadbeat welfare farmers of the Westlands Water District.

The very same decision the deadbeat welfare farmers of the Westlands Water District, Fox, Sean Hannity, Abel Maldonado, Arnold, and the Teabaggers all want the rest of us to pay for. By giving away billions worth public water. You see, welfare’s OK for billionaire Resnick and the Westlands deadbeat welfare millionaires, but not for the farmworkers DiFi wants us all to believe she suddenly cares about so much.

Is DiFi’s multibillion scheme to give away thirty billion people’s water to a few hundred deadbeat welfare millionaires and one billionaire OK with Senate Majority Leader and President Obama?

Call them, and find out. But better call soon: the jobs bill – like DiFi’s obscenely wealthy pals – is on a fast track.

Or you can simply roll over, do nothing, and repeat the mantra: Forget it Jake. It’s the Delta.