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Land Purchases: MWD’s New Water Grab?

Fascinating and scary article we wanted to share with you today.
According to excellent reporting by Ry Rivard the Los Angeles-based “Renewable Resources Group” has helped sell 33,000 acres of land to California’s most powerful water agency, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. 

A Little-Known Company Is Quietly Making Massive Water Deals –  Voice of San Diego 5/7/19

“By spring 2016, Metropolitan had agreed to pay $175 million for 20,000 acres of farmland south of Sacramento. Again, Metropolitan paid a premium for the land – and again, Renewable was reaping the rewards. A 5-year-old appraisal showed the land was worth about half what Metropolitan paid.”

Here is why we think this long read is so important…

Ry Rivard’s story elucidates that that MWD paid $175 million for the 20,000 acres of Delta islands that it purchased — double the price of its appraised value five years earlier.  Because real estate purchases are negotiated behind closed doors due to Brown Act exemptions, there is no opportunity for MWD ratepayers to question the rationale behind how ratepayer money is spent. MWD and its member agencies are accountable to Southern California ratepayers whose water bills are on the threshold of affordable. (They are presently not affordable for low income households).

Second, it is problematic that a regional special interest water district, like Metropolitan, is able to buy up property to control watersheds throughout the state. Such plays to control California’s water system, a public trust resource, that is to be managed by the state on behalf of all the people of California, should not be controlled by one regional entity.

Third, MWD was making purchases along the Colorado River watershed, through its front group (Renewable Resources Group) to sell water back to Westlands Water District, the other special interest agency with outsized influence on California political leadership.

During that point in the drought, the state’s first priority should have been to insist that special interest water districts work on ways to get water to people living in East Porterville and other cities running out of water, not to agricultural interests selling export crops.

We do not want to see Californians becoming water serfs to special interest water districts that control the state’s water supply.

Maybe the most needed legislation needed in California water is to restrict regional water districts from buying up water rights outside their watershed.

People have the right to have access to their regional public trust resource and to have a say in how local water is managed. Groundwater planning is an imperfect first step in that direction.  Without connecting groundwater management to needed flows in rivers, however, California’s water management will not improve, and allowing a few key players to buy up surface water rights will make climate resilient management of our watersheds impossible. If we are to protect all our residents with extended drought conditions, water supplies must be shared in an egalitarian manner.

We cannot help to wonder how this plays out with Valley Water in Santa Clara Valley making a possible move to buy land in a closed session item on their May 14th. Valley Water is proposing to acquire a bunch of property southwest of the Eastside Canal in eastern Merced County near the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge. We have to ask again, should big water districts serving urban populations be able to buy up land with water rights in rural areas in an unrestricted manner?

As far as Delta planning goes, we know that we will always need to share water with other parts of the state. However, reducing reliance on the Delta cannot be achieved if MWD has the ability to manage the state’s sum total watersheds, to use third parties as front groups for purchases, to spend double the market price, and to use the Brown Act to hide their decision making process from their ratepayers.

Two tunnels, one tunnel, or rebuilt Delta pumps, the over appropriation of water by MWD and Westlands from the Delta and other places will not stop until something is done about their outsized influence and ability to over appropriate California’s rivers and groundwater systems.

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