California Drought Legislation Must Target Agribusiness and Big Oil

by on March 23, 2015 · 2 comments

in California, Energy, Environment

By Dan Bacher

Photo of person drinking glass of water that has been contaminated by Big Oil's toxic wasteGovernor Jerry Brown and lawmakers touted the introduction of drought legislation in the Legislature on March 19, while leaders of environmental and corporate watchdog groups urged Brown to put real limits on the “most egregious” water users – corporate agribusiness and big oil companies – to really address the drought.

Brown joined Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de León, and Republican Leaders Senator Bob Huff and Assemblymember Kristin to unveil legislation that they claimed will “help local communities cope with the ongoing, devastating drought.”

A statement from the Governor’s Office said the package will expedite bond funding to “make the state more resilient to the disastrous effects of climate change and help ensure that all Californians have access to local water supplies.”

The legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects to make the state’s water infrastructure “more resilient to extreme weather events.”

“This unprecedented drought continues with no signs yet of letting up,” said Governor Brown. “The programs funded by the actions announced today will provide direct relief to workers and communities most impacted by these historic dry conditions.”

The Governor’s Office said the legislation includes more than $1 billion for local drought relief and infrastructure projects to make the state’s water infrastructure “more resilient to extreme weather events.”

The package also “accelerates” $128 million in expenditures from the Governor’s budget to provide direct assistance to workers and communities impacted by drought and to implement the Water Action Plan.

It also includes $272 million in Proposition 1 Water Bond funding for safe drinking water and water recycling and accelerates $660 million from the Proposition 1 for “flood protection” in urban and rural areas.

“I want to thank the Governor, the pro Tem and the Speaker for inviting us today,” said Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff. “We were briefed on this proposal just this morning, and so far it sounds like a good approach. We need to review the legislation in detail but it seems like a reasonable start.”

For more details, go here.

“Spending one billion dollars will not create new water for California.”

Food & Water Watch, a national non-profit organization that advocates for common sense policies that will result in healthy, safe food and access to safe and affordable drinking water, said the emergency drought package focuses on the “wrong solutions” to the state’s mounting water problems.

“Spending one billion dollars will not create new water for California. In order to address the drought crisis, Governor Brown must place real limits on the State’s most egregious water users – the agriculture and oil industries,” said Adam Scow, Food & Water Watch California Director.

“Governor Brown is penalizing Californians for their water use, but is giving a free pass to agriculture and oil corporations that are over-pumping and polluting our State’s dwindling groundwater supply. Agriculture uses 80 percent of California’s water while urban and residential uses account for less than 15 percent,” he said.

“Governor Brown is penalizing Californians for their water use, but is giving a free pass to agriculture and oil corporations that are over-pumping and polluting our State’s dwindling groundwater supply.”

Scow pointed out the use of large amounts of water by agribusiness, particularly that used by water-intensive almonds.

“It’s time to place limits on the growing almond empire in the desert-like conditions on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley,” said Scow. “These almond operations are over-pumping vast amounts of groundwater and will mostly be exported overseas. Last year the Westlands Water District pumped over 600,000 acre feet of groundwater-more water than all of Los Angeles used that year. The Governor needs to direct the State Water Board to manage California’s groundwater as a public resource and not allow corporate interests to deplete our dwindling groundwater.”

California’s almond orchards use about 3.5 million acre feet of water, nearly 9 percent of the state’s agricultural water supply. That is enough water to supply the domestic needs of the Los Angeles Basin and metropolitan San Diego combined, approximately 75 percent of the state’s population, according to Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN).

“If the Governor was serious about protecting our water he would issue a moratorium on fracking to stop the ongoing pollution of 2 million gallons per day of fresh water and stop the ongoing dumping of oil wastewater into our aquifers.”

Scow also urged the Governor to issue a moratorium on the controversial practice of fracking that has resulted in the pollution of many aquifers in the Central Valley with oil industry wastewater.

“If the Governor was serious about protecting our water he would issue a moratorium on fracking to stop the ongoing pollution of 2 million gallons per day of fresh water and stop the ongoing dumping of oil wastewater into our aquifers. California’s aquifers are crucial and must be protected in order to save and store water for the future,” said Scow.

“If the bill doesn’t include a ban on new plantings of permanent crops in areas with groundwater overdraft and interruptible water supplies, then it is not a comprehensive solution to our ongoing drought,” said Tom Stokely, Water Policy Analyst/Media Contact, California Water Impact Network.

Meanwhile, the Governor continues to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. The $67 billion water grab would hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, great sturgeon and other fish species. It would also imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Dan Shay March 23, 2015 at 12:07 pm

Excellent article! Agribusiness steals all the public rivers of the west for their own private profit. The Kern River emerges from the mountains outside of Bakersfield and the entire river is captured and diverted to enormous private citrus farms for agribusiness. That is our water they are taking and using for profit. Then they receive subsides on top of that and tell us to conserve! I completely agree with everything this article says. If it were up to me I would grow the crops in other places that have plenty of water. For example, Florida is an excellent place to grow citrus trees and many other crops. Florida is facing its own aquifer crisis, but not as bad as California. If we are not going to move the existing farms, we need to at least eliminate future farms in California at a bare minimum. Some may say that is not fair, but its also not fair to take all the public water, profit on it and ship the food produced out of California.

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Avatar Jim March 23, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Couldn’t agree with you more, Dan.

Hey hey, ho ho, BigAg and BigOil gotta go….

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