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How Limousine Liberals, Water Oligarchs and Even Sean Hannity Are Hijacking Our Water Supply

A group of water oligarchs engineered a disastrous privatization scheme to make a fortune out of California's most precious natural resource.
 
 
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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. 

California is in year three of a fairly nasty dry spell. And some very powerful forces are not letting this mini-crisis go to waste, fiercely lobbying Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein, paying off corporate shills like Fox News' Sean Hannity and capitalizing on people's fear of drought to push a massive waterworks project that will pump more water, build more dams and keep sucking the state's rivers dry. The fearmongering schtick goes like this: California is on the brink of a water crisis of cataclysmic proportions, with a life-or-death struggle just around the corner, pitting small farmers who want to save their livelihood against big city elitists who care more about the environment than they do about American jobs. But in reality, this drought hysteria is nothing more than political theatrics, a scare tactic backed by big agribusiness to strong-arm California voters into building a multi-billion dollar system of dams and canals that would not really help small farmers -- of which there are very few anyway -- but would deliver more water to corporations, subsidize their landholdings, fuel real estate development and enable large-scale water privatization. At its core, it is a war waged for water by California's megarich on everyone else. 

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. A shrewd businesswoman, Lynda is credited with single-handedly creating the pomegranate health fad to sell her Pom Wonderful and catapulted Fiji Water to its recent success, one that environmentalists love to hate as was recently documented in Mother Jones by Anna Lenzer

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: