A couple of weeks ago, we looked at Buttonwillow Land and Cattle, one of the growers using water from Kern County’s Semitropic Water Storage District. This district was created to receive State Water Project water, improve water supply reliability for a fairly arid region, make water cheaper for big growers, and fix an overdrafted groundwater basin.
We’re especially interested in how much subsidized Delta water is being used to grow federally subsidized cotton, which is not essential for food security.
This week we look at a two more growers, starting with Frederick “Rick” Wegis, president of the Semitropic board of directors. Mr. Wegis has served on the board since 1995, succeeding his father Ken, who served on the board for 26 years. Four generations of his family farm 4,500 acres in the Buttonwillow/Wasco area. Between 1995 and 2010, Wegis Ranch received $5,184,322 in cotton subsidies – over four times as much as the subsidies it received for all other commodities combined.
Wegis Ranch annual subsidies peaked at $725,462 in 2005. (Incidentally, it was two to three years later that salmon production nose-dived. That’s when fish that didn’t survive would have returned upstream to spawn.)
This past December, Rick Wegis joined Congressman Kevin McCarthy – to whose campaign he contributed – in calling on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to replace agency scientists who developed a biological opinion on Delta smelt that south San Joaquin Valley growers didn’t like. They keep looking for scientists to tell them what they want to hear: that lack of adequate water really doesn’t hurt fish.
Restore the Delta was interested to learn that Mr. Wegis is also a director of Hanson Limited, based in Maidenhead, Berkshire in the U.K. Hanson Ltd. supplies heavy building materials and services to residential, infrastructure, and industrial and commercial construction sectors. In addition to aggregate, it offers items like steel pipe and precast concrete products. Could be useful for moving water around.
For board meetings, we’d choose Berkshire over Bakersfield ourselves.