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Thirsty Billionaires File Complaint Alleging Illegal Diversions of "Their" Water

by Dan Bacher
“State and Federal contractors, who have been illegally storing water that belongs to others for years, should not accuse Delta farmers of stealing some of their stolen water, on the basis of a seriously flawed study, with a long list of unsupported assumptions,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
meet_the_resnicks_1.jpg
Thirsty Billionaires File Complaint Alleging Illegal Diversions of "Their" Water

by Dan Bacher

The phrase “No good deed goes unpunished,” originally attributed to playwright Clare Boothe Luce, could accurately the current situation of farmers on the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

Three weeks after the State Water Resources Control Board approved a proposal by Delta farmers to voluntarily reduce their water use by 25%, the State Water Contractors (SWC), including powerful billionaire and millionaire corporate growers in the San Joaquin Valley, filed a complaint with the same board on June 16. The group requested the board to take action to “protect” State Water Project (SWP) releases from what it claimed were “unlawful diversions” in the Delta.

The group accused diverters south of the San Joaquin River - Delta farmers - of “substantial, unlawful diversions” that would “increase the burden on limited stored water supplies, affecting both the environment and other water users.”

“These landowners in the Delta have long-standing water rights that entitle them to water when nature provides it—but those rights do not entitle them to stored water paid for by others and intended for the environment. If nature ran its course, the Delta would not be suitable for drinking or farming this summer,” said Stefanie Morris, acting general manager of the State Water Contractors, in a press release.

She further alleged that landowners that continue to divert water from within the Delta are "taking" the stored state and federal water project supplies needed to meet water quality requirements.

“We’re depending on stored water to meet environmental needs, but without action from the state, keeping the Delta water fresh this summer will be like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom. We’ll be depleting reservoirs to make up for what diverters south of the San Joaquin River are taking out,” concluded Morris.

The California Sportfishing Alliance (CSPA) responded to the complaint by pointing out the irony of the water contractors claiming that Delta farmers, senior water rights holders, are “stealing” water that “belongs” to the contractors.

“State and Federal contractors, who have been illegally storing water that belongs to others for years, should not accuse Delta farmers of stealing some of their stolen water, on the basis of a seriously flawed study, with a long list of unsupported assumptions,” said Bill Jennings, Executive Director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD), noted that “the pumps for the State Water Project have yet to be turned off one day during the drought while water quality standards are being violated in the Delta each and every day this year, impacting Delta urban water users and family farms.”

“We are perilously close to losing Delta smelt, and our iconic salmon fisheries, and despite Delta family farms already taking a voluntary 25 percent reduction in water use, the State Water Contractors believe the Delta should be made into a complete sacrifice zone for their water exports,” she said.

At the same time that the water contractors are demanding that Delta farmers stop raiding “their water," water-intensiver almond acreage in the San Joaquin Valley has increased dramatically in recent years, in spite of water contractor claims that protections for Delta smelt and salmon have made the Valley into some sort of modern-day “Dust Bowl.”

In fact, growers statewide expanded their almond acreage by 150,000 acres during the current drought. (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/SevenDays/archives/2015/05/15/californias-thirsty-almond-acreage-grows-by-150000-acres-during-record-drought

Stewart Resnick, the Beverly Hills billionaire agribusiness tycoon, owner of Paramount Farms, and one of the biggest California contributors to both Democratic and Republican Party candidates, revealed his current plan to expand pistachio, almond, and walnut acreage during the drought at this March's annual pistachio conference that Paramount Farms hosted. Resnick is the co-owner with his wife, Lynda, of "The Wonderful Company," formerly Roll Global.

During the conference, Resnick gloated about the industry's 118 percent increase in pistachio acreage, 47 percent increase in almonds and 30 percent increase in walnuts over the past ten years, according to the Western Farm Press.

Resnick also told the publication that their 2020 goal is “150,000 partner acres ” and “33,000 Paramount acres.” (http://westernfarmpress.com/tree-nuts/paramount-farms-touts-record-pistachio-return-future?)

Under pressure by the Metropolitan Water District and the Kern County Water Agency that serves Resnick and other wealthy growers, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) and the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) mismanaged the Bay Delta Estuary and California’s reservoirs during the drought so that these agencies could continue to export as much water as possible, despite the devastating impacts on the Bay-Delta Estuary, according to Barrigan-Parrilla.

Barrigan-Parrilla said the Department and Bureau failed to hold back enough water for continued drought conditions despite warnings to do so by fishery and environmental water groups throughout the state.

“As the weeks go by, it becomes clearer and clearer that the only way to stop the over pumping of the SF Bay-Delta estuary, and Governor Brown’s planned tunnels project, is for an adjudication of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta watershed,” she said. “The problem is that we do not have the water to meet the insatiable demand of special interest growers in California, like those in the Kern County Water Agency, or the Metropolitan Water District, which used up the majority of its three-year stored water supply in 2014, and only began to get serious about conservation this year."

During 2013 and 2014, the state and federal water agencies systematically emptied Trinity Reservoir on the Trinity River, Lake Shasta on the Sacramento River, Lake Oroville on the Feather River and Folsom Lake on the American River, in spite of it being a record drought. The agencies delivered massive amounts of subsidized Delta water to corporate mega-growers, Southern California water agencies and Big Oil companies conducting steam injection and fracking operations in Kern County. (http://www.elkgrovenews.net/2014/02/state-and-feds-drained-northern.html)

Salmon, steelhead and a host of other fish species are being driven closer to extinction by low, warm water conditions on the Sacramento and Trinity River systems spurred by the draining of reservoirs during a historic drought. But as the Brown administration mandates that northern California urban water users slash their water use by 25 percent and as Delta farmers voluntarily agree to a 25 percent in their water consumption, thirsty billionaire growers like Stewart Resnick brag about how they have expanded their almond, pistachio and walnut acreage during the drought.
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