The problem with the water debate, to the extent there is one, is the way it’s spun. Long dominated by eco-warrior do-gooders, the fight for water has been framed as boringly and abstractly as possible. How is the “environment” supposed to register in our primitive brains when 1 out of 5 Americans still think the sun revolves around the earth? In fact, it’s pretty simple what the big struggle for water is all about: the rich fleecing the rest of the country. Fact is, they’ve been treating our water wealth like one giant personal trust fund. And it seems they’ve been hitting up the ATM so often that even NASA’s satellites can see the withdrawals all the way from space:
New space observations reveal that since October 2003, the aquifers for California’s primary agricultural region — the Central Valley — and its major mountain water source — the Sierra Nevadas — have lost nearly enough water combined to fill Lake Mead, America’s largest reservoir.
. . .
Combined, California’s Sacramento and San Joaquin drainage basins have shed more than 30 cubic kilometers of water since late 2003, said professor Jay Famiglietti of the University of California, Irvine. A cubic kilometer is about 264.2 billion gallons, enough to fill 400,000 Olympic-size pools. The bulk of the loss occurred in California’s agricultural Central Valley. The Central Valley receives its irrigation from a combination of groundwater pumped from wells and surface water diverted from elsewhere.
That much water would be enough to keep the taps and toilets flowing for half the people living in America for a year. And, in terms of cash-money, it’s worth many billions of dollars. At the most conservative estimate (using the rate at which California’s water officials buy back water from farmers), it amounts to something like $6 billion. But it could go all the way to a hundred billion if the state’s dry spell persists. And because NASA says that most of the pumping happened on the south-western edge of the Central Valley, all those billions have been going to the richest corporate farmers in California, the kind of farmers who commute to work at the crack of dawn on their personal jets while getting briefed by their financial advisers on a plan to scrap their farming operations and transition into water trading full time. Because selling taxpayer-subsidized water back to the masses at a markup has been the easiest money they ever made.
Here’s a fun wealth transfer fact: Farming adds no more than 4% to California’s state gross product while consuming 80% of its water, which simply means they have enough subsidized water to get taxpayer handouts for growing worthless crops that nobody needs, and trade the rest as a commodity on the open market:
For decades taxpayers have provided subsidized water to California farmers at rates far below fair market value. When the amount of cheap water delivered to farmers was reduced during the severe drought of the early ’90s to protect two species of endangered fish, a group of San Joaquin Valley water districts representing some of the nation’s biggest farming operations sued the government for “taking” what they claimed was their private property.
But an Environmental Working Group (EWG) investigation of state and federal data found that from 1995 to 2003, those same farms received a total of $248 million in federal farm subsidies. And since 2001, the water district representing nearly all of those farms made almost $40 million in profit by selling subsidized water back to the taxpayers at market rates.
We think that the naked plunder of resources takes place mostly in third-world hellholes and history books. Sure, the 19th century robber barons who ran around America sucking it dry of oil and stripping it of timber might be dead, but their degenerate grandchildren are still following in their footsteps:
By DENNIS HEVESI
James G. Boswell II, who inherited a huge expanse of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley of California, then quadrupled its acreage to create a cotton-growing empire, died last Friday at his home in Indian Wells, Calif. He was 86. . . . Mr. Boswell was a complicated, reticent man. He saw himself as a cowboy and was proud that he had lost two fingers in a cattle-roping accident. He golfed with Arnold Palmer. He sat on the boards of General Electric, the Security Pacific Bank and the Safeway supermarket chain. He was chairman, president and chief executive of his company from 1952 until he retired in 1984. . . . He was named after his uncle J.G. Boswell, who married Ruth Chandler, the daughter of Los Angeles Times Publisher and real estate baron Harry Chandler. . . . Mr. Boswell is survived by his second wife, the former Barbara Wallace; his son, James, who now runs the business; two daughters, Jody Hall and Lorraine Wilcox; and five grandchildren.
You probably never heard of the Boswell clan, but people like them secretly run California. And they also run its water.
Yasha Levine is a mobile home 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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