Water Heist — How Corporations Are Cashing In On California’s Water

Public Citizen
Executive Summary

California’s Great Central Valley receives between one and ten inches of rain a year. The diverted rivers sent south to be used as irrigation water provide the Midas touch that transforms the desert into the richest agricultural region in the world.

California’s Central Valley is one of the largest contiguous swaths of land on earth to have been so completely altered by human activity. Lake beds and wetlands have been drained and planted with cotton and almonds, rivers dammed and diverted over hundreds of miles from their sources, the air filled with such quantities of dust and pesticides as to become the most polluted in the country, and the dry semi-desert floor turned into the most productive agricultural region in the world. Now, after a century of such cosmetology, the Valley is about to get yet another makeover from a boom crop: sprawl.

OVER THE PAST DECADE, a handful of the largest agribusiness and development corporations in the country have been rewriting California water policy in secret meetings to quench their thirst for unabated expansion and privatize the state’s water supply. Displaying total disregard for the California State Constitution, representative democracy, and the environmental and social impacts of their actions, these players seek to “game” public water projects—much as Enron “gamed” energy deregulation. Their goal is to siphon as much of California’s public water as possible to their corporate farms and “master-planned” cities in the desert while profiting from insider water sales. In California state law, as laid out in the Constitution and the Water Code, water is a public good, held in trust by the state to ensure the greatest benefit to the public. In Water Heist: How Corporations Are Cashing In On California’s Water we show how the public trust has been breached by an entrenched water plutocracy. The corporate interests that pervade the water districts that call the shots throughout the state are setting up insider water trading systems to facilitate the ease with which water flows to money. With direct corporate control over vital public water infrastructure—especially massive public water storage facilities—environmental protection and justice, urban renewal and smart growth face a desiccated future where profit rather than need dictates the destiny of California’s water.

The abuses continue largely because they occur in closed meetings in hidden forms of government. Public Citizen aims to help cast the light of public scrutiny on the water deals taking place using the state’s public water delivery system so that not just the CEOs of California have a voice in determining how our water is managed.

The water plutocracy includes some of the largest private agribusiness and development corporations in the country, who have created obscure and unaccountable water districts that act like “hidden government.”

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