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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: California | Central Valley | Environment & Forest Defense | Government & Elections
Stewart Resnick expands almond acreage as cities forced to slash water use
"It appears that Stewart Resnick is making Paramount Farms into a Wall Street bank that is too big to fail," quipped Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta.
Stewart Resnick expands almond acreage as cities forced to slash water use
by Dan Bacher
A coalition of environmentalists on April 20 blasted Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick and other corporate agribusiness interests for continuing to plant thousands of acres of new almond trees during the drought while Governor Jerry Brown is mandating that urban families slash water usage by 25 percent.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla. Executive Director of Restore the Delta, said Resnick, the owner of Paramount Farms in Kern County, uses as much water for his almonds as the amount of water 38 million Californians are now required to conserve.
“While farmers make their own decisions on what to plant, the public is paying the price for poor decisions made by greedy mega-growers, who plant permanent crops where there is no water,” Barrigan-Parrilla told reporters in a news conference about the “tunnels only” version of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) that Governor Jerry Brown is now pushing. “That is not sustainable and the tunnels would subsidize unsustainable agriculture.”
You can listen to the audio of the conference at: https://soundcloud.com/stopthewatergrab/tunnels-only-bdcp-gov-ignores-co-equal-goals-epa-fisheries
At this year’s annual pistachio conference hosted by Paramount Farms, Resnick revealed his current efforts to expand pistachio, almond and walnut acreage during a record drought.
“Talking about the successes in recent years, Andy Anzaldo, vice president of grower relations for Wonderful Pistachios, played a clip from the movie ‘Jerry McGuire” in which Tom Cruise shouts, 'Show me the money,’” according to the Western Farm Press. (http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/paramount-farms-touts-record-pistachio-return-future?)
“Resnick then did that. He said the average net return per acre on three nut crops was $3,519 for pistachios, $1,431 for almonds and $884 for walnuts," the publication reported.
During the event Resnick also bragged about the increase in pistachio acreage over the past 10 years, 118 percent - even more than the 47 percent increase for almonds and 30 percent increase for walnuts.
Rsesnick and Anzaldo also told the Western Farm Press that their 2020 goal is “150,000 partner acres ” and “33,000 Paramount acres.”
A Wall Street bank that is too big to fail?
"It appears that Stewart Resnick is making Paramount Farms into a Wall Street bank that is too big to fail," quipped Barrigan-Parrilla.
Other sources confirm the expansion of almond acreage in California. During the current drought, almond acreage has expanded by 70,000 acres, a total of 280,000 acre feet per year of new water demand, according to the "On the Public Record" blog (http://onthepublicrecord.org).
"I have marked the almond acreage at the beginning and end of the 2006-2009 drought (700,000 acres at the beginning, 810,000 acres at the end). At the beginning of our current drought, almond acreage was 870,000 acres. In 2013, after two years of drought, it was up to 940,000 acres," the blogger stated.
“Let’s make this all explicit," the blogger said. "Since this drought began, almonds have expanded by 70,000 acres That’s 280,000 acft/year of new water demand for a snack that will be exported. That water will come from groundwater or from other farmers. At the same time, the California EPA is literally telling urban users to take five minute cold showers."
“One the Public Record” said the 2014 California Almond Acreage Report will come out at the end of April. It will be interesting to see what the numbers will be when they are released.
Resnick and his wife, Lynda, have been instrumental in promoting campaigns to eviscerate Endangered Species Act protections for Central Valley Chinook salmon and Delta smelt populations and to build the fish-killing peripheral tunnels. They have become known as the "Koch Brothers of California Water" for the many thousands of dollars they contribute to candidates and propositions in California every year.
For example, Stewart Resnick contributed $150,000 to Jerry Brown's Proposition 1 water grab in the 2014 election (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/09/1335459/-Corporate-Agribusiness-dumps-850-000-into-Proposition-1)
While serving on the board of Conservation International, a corporate "environmental" NGO, Resnick become notorious for buying subsidized Delta water and then selling it back to the public for a big profit as Delta fish and Central Valley salmon populations crashed. To read the complete story about the Resnicks to: https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/09/28/18762178.php
Brown's plan violates plan's statutory goals and end runs the EPA
During the press conference, Restore the Delta (RTD) and other opponents of Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to build "massive underground water export tunnels" reported that Brown’s abandonment of habitat restoration in his BDCP tunnels project “violates the statutory ‘co-equal goals’, end-runs the EPA and other federal scientists who refused to issue permits for the project, and makes the tunnels project a simple water grab for industrial mega-growers."
“You cannot have successful habitat or restore fisheries while draining the Delta of its water,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “The governor has now abandoned that as a co-equal goal of building the tunnels. BDCP is now a naked ‘tunnels-only’ water grab for the unsustainable mega-farms in Westlands and Kern.”
Richard Stapler, Bay Delta Conservation Plan spokesman, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the new plan will use $17 billion from state water contractors just to build and operate the tunnels. "That would allow habitat restoration work on the delta and surrounding waterways to begin immediately regardless of what happens with the tunnel project," according to the Chronicle (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Activists-decry-plan-to-cut-habitat-aid-from-6212404.php)
“The status quo in the delta is unsustainable,” Stapler said. “By decoupling habitat from the tunnel portion, we can get started immediately with the habitat restoration.”
In a startling admission, Stapler admitted that the Brown administration could use money from Proposition 1 to pay for habitat mitigation for construction and operation of the tunnels.
"He acknowledged that the money could conceivably come from Proposition 1, the $7.5 billion water bond that California passed last year," the Chronicle said.
Chelsea Tu, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, slammed this new plan as "a giant step backward."
"If it goes through, this massive project’s boosters will be able to build these tunnels without having to do anything to protect our wildlife and waters — and will neatly sidestep input from the public. This backdoor process will waste more taxpayer money and kill more Delta species like endangered salmon and smelt," said Tu.
She said the new plan would be subject to review only under Section 7 of the federal Endangered Species Act, a "bare minimum" approach that could only require federal wildlife agencies to determine whether it will harm 21 fish and wildlife species, such as Delta smelt and winter and spring-run Chinook salmon, that are listed or proposed to be listed under the Act.
Under the previous approach, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan planned to protect 57 imperiled fish and wildlife species, including longfin smelt, fall Chinook salmon and the greater sandhill crane. A Section 7 consultation would only take place among federal agencies and would likely not contain mandatory mitigation requirements or a public participation process, according to Tu.
“As drought becomes the new normal, California cannot afford to continue to lose Delta species that are already on the brink of extinction,” added Tu. “Instead of spending $25 billion to take more water from the Delta to fuel speculative sprawl and export agribusinesses, California should invest money in proven water conservation, efficiency, reuse and recycling strategies for both cities and farms.”
Bait and switch - without the bait
Jonas Minton, water policy advisory for the Planning & Conservation League, said the state must change how the public’s water is used - and pointed out the absurdity of mega-growers expanding almond acreage during the drought.
"While urban families are being required to cut water use by 25%, billionaire Stewart Resnick and others continue to plant thousands of acres of new almond trees during the drought," he stated."After wasting $250 million on failed public relations, they have mutated this into something even worse for water users, taxpayers and environment.”
Minton noted that state officials have provided no details on how the restoration, proposed on a parallel track to the construction of the tunnels, will be funded .
"Where the Governor thinks those dollars will come from is a mystery. So this is bait and switch, without the bait," Minton said.
Conner Everts, executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance, concluded that the failure of the BDCP to meet our water challenges or conservation goals means we must abandon the tunnels and "invest in conservation opportunities.”
“Local water solutions are the most cost effective and responsive solution to our water challenges, and that is where we should invest, instead of in tunnels that produce no new water,” said Everts. “Despite passing a large water bond, there is little available funding specifically targeted for conservation: just $250 million out of $7.545 billion from bond measures and $1.1 billion from the Legislature. Conservation funds will have to be allocated locally, and through state and federal resources.”
He emphasized that "funding should not be diverted for tunnels. There is not money for local infrastructure, and it is well known that trunk and main water lines must be repaired. We are losing 10% of our treated drinking water to leaking pipes. We can’t afford to sink billions into tunnels. Instead, we must invest in conservation, repairing our infrastructure, and becoming drought-proof.”
Public Record Act requests reveal state is circumventing contracting rules
The tunnels opponents also released new information from Public Records Act requests showing that the State of California is "circumventing the contracting rules" for state projects and violating the statute enacted so the water takers themselves control design, construction and financing of the tunnels.
“Huge water-takers are manipulating the process with the cooperation of the Brown Administration so they can grab front row seats to deliver that water to themselves,” added Barrigan-Parrilla. “Prior to even having draft environmental documents for the public to review, the Californian Department of Water Resources (DWR) is poised to sign a ‘secret’ contract enabling a small, select group of water-takers unprecedented control and access out of the public eye, and circumventing state contracting and competitive bidding processes designed to protect ratepayers and taxpayers.”
Documentation that the process is rigged and unjustly manipulated by state officials and water contractors was revealed last year when I exposed a memorandum sent to Department of Water Resources (DWR) staff from DWR Director Mark Cowin indicating that the Brown administration was stepping up its efforts to fast-track the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to build the peripheral tunnels. (https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2014/05/11/18755646.php)
In the memo, Cowin said two new organizations would be established within the agency to implement the controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan - a DWR BDCP Office and the Delta Conveyance Facilities Design and Construction Enterprise (DCE) - beginning June 1, 2014.
In the latest development in this process, the State Water Project contractors are trying to circumvent contracting and competitive bidding procedures to control who is in charge, while using DWR’s imprint of a public project. This secret planning process sets up moving forward with a project that has not been approved or permitted by circumventing codes and laws regarding contracting, according to Restore the Delta.
"This complex process is designed to take decision-making away from DWR scientists who oppose the project, and the Legislature, and give it to a select group of special interests that want to operate a public water project for their benefit," Barrigan-Parrilla concluded.
For more information, go to: http://restorethedelta.org/