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Dispatch / Water Wars / September 9, 2009

Dr Pepper Snapple Joshua Tree View

Standing on the sandy turf where the future bottling plant will stand, and looking around at the Joshua trees and tumbleweeds stretching out as far as the eye can see, it’s easy to see why people like Bosecki are worried.

Victorville receives 5 to 6 inches of rainfall a year. For comparison: Death Valley gets 2 inches, semi-arid Los Angeles gets 15 and New York City gets 28. Not surprisingly, a recent poll conducted by the Mojave Water Agency found that 90 percent of the local population was concerned about the availability of water.

Out here in the desert, water will soon become more precious than oil. Underground water reserves have been shrinking for decades. In fact, local aquifers here have been in overdraft — with more water being pumped out than is replaced naturally — since the 1950s.

To recharge its underground sources, the Mojave Water Agency has been purchasing water from the State Water Project via the California Aqueduct, which pumps water hundreds of miles via concrete rivers, all the way from the Sacramento Delta. But the recent subprime-fueled population explosion, combined with a total lack of water regulation and California’s persistent drought conditions have put the overdraft process into overdrive.

Victor Valley residents use an average of 200 to 250 gallons per day, more than twice the national average. Not surprisingly, the aquifer is being drained at record levels. Victorville old-timers say that at the turn of the century, groundwater was so abundant in some parts of the city and so close to the surface that springs would pop up overnight and wash away pavement and roads. Now, wells that tapped fresh water at a 1,000 feet two decades ago have gone dry.

The more rustic parts of Victor Valley seem to be more mindful of water usage, with gravel-filled and desert-landscaped yards a common sight. Victorville proper is not as keen on conservation. The city is not trying to sell the desert lifestyle, but attempts to re-create the suburban ideal of green lawns, lush trees and golf courses.

California Aqueduct on Victorville City Limits

Sunset time at the California Aqueduct running through Victorville: Looks almost good enough to drink

But as water rates continue to climb, conservation efforts are starting to kick in. Victorville is promoting the “Cash for Grass” program, which offers 50 cents per square foot to replace lawn with low-water-use landscaping. Some communities are striving for a 20 percent reduction in water consumption.

Yet these efforts are dwarfed by the enormity of the Dr Pepper Snapple plant’s water usage. In a single day, the facility would use a decade’s worth of per capita water consumption. The 250 million gallons of fresh water it uses over the course of one year would be enough to supply 1 percent of Victor Valley’s population.

“While the rest of the high desert is faced with ever-increasing water bills and told to conserve in every way possible, Victorville keeps creating huge water-guzzler projects that only benefit private interests,” Bosacki said. “You got this juxtaposing of people getting fined for watering their lawns, while you have this plant using 1 million gallons a day for private profit. There is a different standard here, which should encourage some outrage.”

Victorville’s city officials say that the plant will not lead to higher water rates, nor the need for increased conservation. Without consulting neighboring cities, the city council voted against commissioning a “lengthy and costly” environmental impact study. Instead, it cited a flimsy five-page report prepared by a city engineer that did not even address the issue of water consumption, instead focusing on burrowing owls, desert tortoises and what to do if Native American artifacts would be discovered during the construction process.

To allay fears and quiet critics, Victorville politicians have been talking up a $40 million water-reclamation facility in the works, which they say will conserve 70 percent of the plant’s water usage — nearly 700,000 gallons a day — by using it to water the city’s golf course and to cool the reactors of a nearby privately owned power plant. (Called the High Desert Power Project, the plant has been using 3.5 million gallons of fresh water a day for nearly two decades and has been criticized for its wasteful water usage.)

The treatment facility was somewhat of a coup for Dr Pepper Snapple Group. To make Victorville more attractive for the company, the city agreed to bankroll the whole thing, and it even threw in a several million dollars’ worth of roads and assorted infrastructure for the bottling plant. (It was a noble gesture considering Standard & Poor’s Rating Services downgraded Victorville’s credit worthiness to “junk status,” forcing the city to float five-year municipal bonds at a subprime rate of 12 percent to finance the wastewater reclamation plant, while at the same time cutting most city services by almost 50 percent.)

But the Dr Pepper Snapple plant is being subsidized with public funds on an even bigger and more sinister level.

There is no doubt that the bottling plant’s oversized water consumption will have a real effect on the future cost of water in the area. So, not only is the city making locals pay for the construction of the plant, but will actually end up funding Dr Pepper Snapple’s corporate profits with future water-rate hikes, giving the company access to cheap water now by making it more expensive for everyone later.

“They are shifting and deferring the cost to the public in order to bring them to Victorville,” Bosacki said.

Put simply, the plan is nothing less than a transfer of wealth, a slow privatization of a scarce public resource and further plundering of taxpayer wealth by the shareholder class.

This article first appeared on Alternet.

Yasha Levine is a McMansion inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at] exiledonline.com.


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27 Comments

Add your own

  • 1. Tam  |  September 9th, 2009 at 3:18 am

    Another fascinating article, Yasha.
    The situation sounds like yet another particuarly moronic game of chicken between ‘free market’/ business-always-knows-best ideaology and geological realities. My money is on the latter, but i suppose the important question is, what timeframe will it play out in?

  • 2. Tam  |  September 9th, 2009 at 3:22 am

    Also, people who found this article interesting ought to watch the film Chinatown which touches on similar issues, (as well as being a brilliant film anyway) if you haven’t already…

  • 3. KKKK is 4 kkknowledge  |  September 9th, 2009 at 6:28 am

    I remember when I started college in the early 90’s in California how worked up the green priesthood and all the fraudulent commie professors were about the drought we were having then. Global warming! The sky is falling! Everybody must stop driving/watering lawns/breathing immediately. A few years later we were breaking century old snow pack records in the Sierras and they were worried about the Folsom dam overflowing. Don’t listen to the climate nuts. It’s just weather.

  • 4. Mads Mikkelsen  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:47 am

    They moved to a desert and made a desert.

  • 5. Dave  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Sure it’s just weather, but it’s obviously unstable weather. Drought to massive precipitation, and back to drought in what, 15 years? Either way it’s not a good place to build a facility that is going to add that much pressure onto an already sketchy system.

    Besides. Surface water is not the same as water in an aquifer. Aquifer water regenerates a lot more slowly than surface water can.

  • 6. geo8rge  |  September 9th, 2009 at 9:31 am

    I guess if you wanted to explain it on rational grounds you would compare water leakage and evaporation along the canal to LA to the cost of trucking soft drinks to LA.

    There might be other arguments dealing with electricity and a possible future cap and trade ‘taxation'(*) scheme. I can imagine solar + carbon capture scams in the high desert.

    The real crazy idea? Building an LA in a desert. Who thought that up?

    You forgot to comment that fat Chicano kids in LA really do not need the calories. And the few remaining California blonds, don’t want them.

    * I apologize for calling cap and trade a tax. It is really a fee for the damage I am causing. Sorry.

  • 7. twentyeight  |  September 9th, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I could have sworn this was all in some movie with Jack Nicholson. “Once as tragedy, twice as farce” indeed.

  • 8. aleke  |  September 9th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    DuuhUHuhuh its just weather, Zletceta. Do not believe these lies, growth now growth forever! [Does a rain dance as rioting Maya peasants draw near]

  • 9. Brad  |  September 9th, 2009 at 1:01 pm

    I know 700,000 gallons a day sounds like a lot, but that’s only three acre-feet per day. If 70 percent is “conserved”, then that nets only one acre-foot per day. A 160 acre field of alfalfa takes approximately 1 and three quarter acre feet per day, averaged over one year.

    I grew up on my family’s farm. Irrigated agriculture consumes a massive amount of water, and provides a small number of low paying, back-breaking jobs in exchange.

    Just wanted to offer some perspective.

  • 10. Dan  |  September 9th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    The real tragedy is building an aqueduct system and basing the survival of an entire population on the concept that water will be transported at stated quantities. Then after 40 years of supplying water, to grow agriculture and communities, having a wracked out judge decide to turn off the pumps because of a possibility that a fish will suffer.

    Some things are just wrong and pulling the plug on the California Aqueduct system is a travesty.

  • 11. eric  |  September 9th, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    good article, my compliments.

  • 12. Fissile  |  September 9th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    This kind of thing has been taking place all over the US for decades now. Major auto companies built factories in the the redneck states after getting the politicians to agree to monster giveaways of public money. If no one was outraged then, what makes you think they’ll be outraged now?

    Here’s something else that really gets my goat. “Victorville proper is not as keen on conservation. The city is not trying to sell the desert lifestyle, but attempts to re-create the suburban ideal of green lawns, lush trees and golf courses.”

    Why the fuck do people move to a desert, and then try to make the place look like Paramus, New Jersey?

    I’m convinced that Russian satellites have been beaming stupid rays down on the USA for the past 40 years.

  • 13. DocAmazing  |  September 9th, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Forget it, Dan. The water was over-promised; the agricuature is wasatefula nd absurd (some of these idiots are trying to put rice paddies in desert areas–they’re that profligate and stupid), and the fish that is suffering is called “salmon”–the Pacific salmon fishery is at its worst point in decades, and diversion from the Delta is the reason.

    When farmers live in homes without lawns and practice drip irrigation I’ll listen to your whine. Until then, they get to deal with the absence of a resource just like everyone else does–by doing without.

  • 14. Sin Fronteras  |  September 9th, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    @9 “Let them drink Coke! and eat cake . . .”

  • 15. Concerned Citizen  |  September 9th, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    This is why I’m glad to be living in the Great Lakes Region..specifically Wisconsin. All you poor bastards in the Southwest have a rough ride ahead of you–and don’t even think about stealing our water, you fucking animals.

    Luckly, we’ve already thought that scenario through with the Great Lakes Compact which ensures the water in the Great Lakes will only be used for those in the region. In fact, given the way climate change is occuring, Wisconsin could very well be the future capitol of our nation as DC goes underwater due to rising levels and as the Southwest becomes inhabitable thanks to drought that you idiots knew was coming but did nothing about. You faggots haha.

  • 16. Slashgod  |  September 9th, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    It’s just one percent of their water consumption, and think about the fossil fuel and energy saved in transportation of sugared water from another area.

  • 17. wengler  |  September 9th, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    Great article.

    Which city councilman is going to use this to run for higher office with the slogan “He created jobs!”

    If someone built me a factory, gave me the keys, and told me I would never have to pay taxes on it I think I could make a pretty good go of it too. Meanwhile small businesses can’t even get a loan from the bank.

  • 18. Robert Hodge  |  September 10th, 2009 at 2:56 am

    I love how you idiots here call the merging of private business and government “Free Market.” In a true free market I highly doubt Dr. Pepper would be able to build this facility. But thanks to the government they can.

  • 19. bob  |  September 10th, 2009 at 3:29 am

    I love how people who depend on massive public subsidies (the california aqueduct was a public program) are the first to bitch about being pro-business and pro “free market.”

    More like, how much can we loot the public treasury while giving little in return.

  • 20. Tam  |  September 10th, 2009 at 7:57 am

    @18

    Well, duh! That’s why I put the term free market in quotes, to suggest I didn’t neccesarily agree with it.

    Apologies if this advanced grammatical technique was a bit too sophisticated for you to follow.

  • 21. Roll  |  September 10th, 2009 at 8:55 am

    Ha ha ha ha ha stupid americans, happy 9/11 to you !

  • 22. Sin Fronteras  |  September 10th, 2009 at 9:51 am

    @18 and @20 while you do the invisible hand job over the mythical free market, the rest of us will try our best to deal in the real world of capitalism as it actually exists.

    (Monetary) power begets (political) power. Individual capitalists never want more competition, they want to crush the rest of the competition. Always.

  • 23. az  |  September 10th, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Well don’t you know that money is the cause of poverty, Sin Fronteras?

    This article wasn’t too interesting though. I mean it outlines the public-private scam we all know about but as the environmental impact is only “The 250 million gallons of fresh water it uses over the course of one year would be enough to supply 1 percent of Victor Valley’s population,” it doesn’t seem that significant, unless that’s a typo.

  • 24. WB  |  September 10th, 2009 at 7:34 pm

    Hello, I am ready to be an anonymous shill for my corporate overlords.

    PS: This is where I live:

    map

  • 25. Watertight Compartment  |  September 14th, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    I appreciate everything you do, I know my place and will only speak when spoken to.

  • 26. Mojave66  |  September 27th, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I grew up in nearby Barstow, and this is giving me heartburn. The dwindling Mojave river (runs backwards, underground) is the only source water for all these aquifers, and it’s going to take a beating for a bottling plant that only provides 200 jobs?!

    Also, what’s happening with the dairy farms at the headwaters? I remember a huge controversy a few years’ back because what little water flowing downstream was contaminated from fecal bacteria. Given how the Inland Empire could care less about the Mojave, I’m betting nothing happened to clear that up.

    The “Best Stuff On Earth” indeed.

  • 27. Jimmy  |  October 17th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    This is just another example of poorly allocated resources due to state control of water. Public ownership is always a bad idea. In other words, I support my corporate slave masters.


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