Wednesday, July 30

“You can make water run uphill if you have enough money.” Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 8

[shuffling through her file cabinet] Resnick, Resnick, now why does that name ring a bell? Ah yes; way back in November 2009 Alternet published a report from Yasha Levine that was colorfully titled, How Limousine Liberals, Water Oligarchs and Even Sean Hannity Are Hijacking Our Water Supply -- "our" meaning Californians. It starts like this: 

" A group of water oligarchs in California have engineered a disastrous deregulation and privatization scheme. And they've pulled in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars without causing much public outrage. The amount of power and control they wield over California's most precious resource, water, should shock and frighten us -- and it would, if more people were aware of it. But here is the scary thing: They are plotting to gain an even larger share of California's increasingly-scarce, over-tapped water supply, which will surely lead to shortages, higher prices and untold destruction to California's environment." 

 Soon he arrives at Resnick:

"The leader of these recent water privatization efforts in California is a Beverly Hills billionaire named Stewart Resnick. Stewart and his wife, Lynda Resnick, own Roll International Corporation, a private umbrella company that controls the flowers-by-wire company Teleflora, Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, pesticide manufacturer Suterra and Paramount Agribusiness, the largest farming company in America and the largest pistachio and almond producer in the world. Roll Corp. was ranked #246 on Forbes' list of America's largest private companies in 2008 and had an estimated revenue of $1.98 billion in 2007.

"They are a limousine liberal power couple. Hyperactive in politics, business and philanthropy, the two raise huge amounts of cash for the Democratic party, donate to the arts, support education and hobnob with influential progressives like Arianna Huffington and the anti-global warming activist and producer of An Inconvenient Truth, Laurie David. Stewart Resnick gave over $350,000 to the Gray Davis campaign and various anti-recall groups between 2000 and 2003, a favor Governor Davis returned by appointing Resnick to co-chair his agriculture-water transition team.
[... ]

But there is a gaping hole in most accounts of the jet-set Baby Boomer couple: their company, Roll International, is one of the largest, if not the largest, private water brokers in America. Through a series of subsidiary companies and organizations, Roll International is able to convert California's water from a public, shared resource into a private asset that can be sold on the market to the highest bidder.

It all comes down to Stewart Resnick's involvement in the creation of a powerful but little-known entity called the Kern County Water Bank -- an underground water storage facility at the center of a plan to bring deregulation to California's most important public utility: water.

According to a 2003 Public Citizen report titled " Water Heist," the Kern County Water Bank is an underground reservoir in the hottest, driest, southernmost edge of the Central Valley with a capacity of 1 million acre-feet, enough to convert the entire state of Rhode Island into a swampland one-foot deep or supply the City of Los Angeles with water for 1.7 years.

The water bank was envisioned in the late '80s by the Department of Water Resources as a safeguard against prolonged drought. During wet years, it would serve as a repository for excess water coming in from Northern California and the Sierras, and pumped out in dry years. California spent nearly a hundred million dollars to develop the underground reservoir and connect it to the state's public canals and aqueducts, but in 1995, California's Department of Water Resources suddenly, and without any public debate, transferred it to a handful of corporate interests.

Here is how Los Angeles Times writer Mark Arax described it in 2003:
[...]  " 

All right, enough from Yasha for now. (It's a VERY long report, almost an e-book].  Now to a report from Open Secrets that from the date seems like ancient history as the crow of California's water crisis flies, but is actually very educational, and here again Resnick pops up.

The Politics of Drought: California Water Interests Prime the Pump in Washington

by Kitty Felde and Viveca Novak on April 10, 2014

This story is the result of a collaboration between Southern California Public Radio and the Center for Responsive Politics.

Last year, as California endured one of its driest years on record, the Westlands Water District made it rain 3,000 miles away — on Capitol Hill.
The nation’s largest agricultural water district, located in the Central Valley, spent $600,000 on lobbying efforts, according to an analysis by KPCC in partnership with the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That’s by far Westlands’ biggest annual expenditure for lobbying — about six times what it spent in 2010.
The lobbying comes as Congress and federal agencies consider how to respond to three years of drought conditions that have cut water supplies across the state and ratcheted up political pressure from the hard-hit agricultural sector, including many of Westlands’ customers.

California farmers grow nearly half the nation’s fruits, vegetables and nuts. The California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group, estimates farmers — and the processors and truckers who get crops to market — could lose $5 billion this year due to the drought.
How important is this issue? Well, in recent months it’s brought President Obama, the House Speaker and the powerful House Natural Resources Committee to the Central Valley. 
Congress is considering two major legislative packages — one already passed by the House, authored by freshman Republican Rep. David Valadao of Hanford; and one introduced in the Senate by California Democrats Dianne Feinstein, with Barbara Boxer as a co-sponsor.

The bills have the common goal of redistributing water to meet farmers’ needs, but they differ on execution and the ramifications.

The House bill, which was co-sponsored by the state’s entire GOP delegation, would rewrite water contracts and in the process set aside protections, which has environmental groups up in arms.
The Senate bill would allow regulators to “provide the maximum quantity of water supplies possible” to where it’s most needed and boost existing federal drought programs by $200 million.
As is true with many issues in Washington, money is part of the fight. As Bay Area Rep.George Miller, a Democrat, says, “You can make water run uphill if you have enough money.”
The DC bucket brigade
California water politics is mostly about geography — Northern California’s watershed versus the Central Valley, which relies on that water coming south to irrigate crops, versus Southern California, with its massive and thirsty urban population.
As the drought has worsened, those various interests have pushed harder for relief through campaign contributions to key members of Congress and by employing lobbyists. 
The two biggest spenders on water issues are Westlands, whose customers own 600,000 acres of farmland in Fresno and Kings counties, and the owners of Kern County-based Paramount Farms, the nation’s largest grower of pistachios and almonds.
Just how serious is the quest for water? Last year, Westlands hired four different lobbying firms — even as the overall amount spent by all groups and corporations on federal lobbying has been going down since 2010. All eight of Westlands’ officially registered lobbyists previously worked in government — including a former Republican congressman from Minnesota.
And the $600,000 Westlands spent in 2013 is only what was reported on required disclosure forms. According to an internal document obtained by Southern California Public Radio, Westlands also paid $90,000 last year to former California Democratic Rep. Tony Coelho for “Washington representation,” which was not included in Westlands’ lobbying reports.
Coelho, who did not respond to requests for an interview, is related to one of Westlands’ board members and they are partners in a dairy farm. Westlands also paid another firm nearly $1 million for an “outreach and awareness” campaign.
Democratic lawmaker Miller, who has been on Capitol Hill for more than four decades, says lobbyists keep their “A-game” going all the time, rain or shine, “because you never know when the good Lord’s going to turn off the water. So you’d better be ready.”
Money is extremely helpful in obtaining access and influence, which is crucial whenever Congress gets involved. That’s true whether the cash is in the form of spending on lobbying or campaign donations.
Paramount Farms is owned by Lynda and Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles. Their multi-billion dollar fortune comes from a diverse portfolio that includes Fiji bottled water. They have a controlling interest in the Kern Water Bank Authority, which stores underground supplies of water to irrigate Paramount’s nut trees.
The Resnicks don’t hire lobbyists at the federal level, but they’re generous campaign contributors. They and people who work for their companies have given nearly $457,000 to candidates, political action and party committees since 2011. That includes nearly $321,000 from the Resnicks themselves. (See table at end of story.)
Setting the Water Table

You can’t just read the House and Senate bills and point to paragraphs that directly help either Westlands or the Resnicks. But John Lawrence, a former Capitol Hill staffer who currently teaches at the University of California’s DC Center, says water bills are “very often written specifically in a vague sort of way.” Congressman Miller adds: “There’s rarely any word in a piece of water legislation that’s there accidentally.”
The bill that passed in the House would mandate an increase in pumping from the Sacramento Delta. Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, says that water would primarily go to Central Valley Project contractors, including the biggest — the Westlands Water District.
The bill also extends for 40 years all existing federal water service contracts — including the one for Westlands. Lawrence says that takes away any flexibility to make water decisions for a generation. He notes that once you’ve delivered a “signed, sealed contract, let alone been directed to do it by the Congress,” you’ve taken away any chance at reviewing how future water should be allocated.
Feinstein’s Senate bill includes several provisions that would allow Delta water to be sent farther south to Kern County. Patricia Schifferle of the environmental group Pacific Advocates says, because of previous legislative amendments, the water would be made available to the groundwater bank controlled by Feinstein’s supporters — the Resnicks.
(Neither Westlands nor the Resnicks’ holding company, Roll International, responded to requests for interviews.)
Feinstein recently revised her bill. This latest version includes a provision to boost Colorado River storage in Nevada, home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This version could make it to the Senate floor for a vote without going through the committee process.
Horse trading on Capitol Hill isn’t new. Some of the lobbying money goes to making sure everyone gets to wet their beak. Miller notes that deals get made — trading something Midwest lawmakers want in the farm bill for something Central Valley interests need in the water bill. He says there are “a lot of chits out there that have been planted around the anticipation of a water bill coming to the floor of Congress.”
If the House bill became law, Ron Stork of Friends of the River says not only would habitat restoration be hurt, but so would two other water consumers: farmers and residential users in the northern part of the state. Delta farmers, with some of the oldest water rights in California, and the city and county of Sacramento, which contract for drinking water, would find their supply “commandeered and delivered south.”
The lobbying isn’t limited to Capitol Hill. It also takes place at the agency level. John Lawrence says private meetings are held behind closed doors at places such as the Bureau of Reclamation or the Environmental Protection Agency, where there’s “greater wiggle room” on how water policies are implemented. Those conversations are confidential, not debated openly in Congressional committee hearings.
Westlands’ reports show it lobbied the EPA, the Agriculture Department, the Interior Department (which includes the Bureau of Reclamation) and the Council on Environmental Quality, in addition to Congress and the White House. Three of the water district’s lobbyists are former high-ranking officials of the Interior Department.
There’s even a place lobbyists and campaign contributions collide: Schifferle from Pacific Advocates notes a 2012 breakfast fundraiser for Feinstein in the offices of one of Westlands’ lobbying firms, held “right around the time” of a budget amendment that gave water agencies access to federal water.
In Washington, certain wells never run dry.

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