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Extending Water Fund Would Turn State of California Into Water Broker

April 26, 2005

Extending Water Fund Would Turn  State of California  Into Water Broker

Fund Was Supposed to Help Fish, But Track Record is Poor

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Environmental Water Account (EWA) Fund is a way to further commodify water in California under the guise of protecting endangered fish, and lawmakers should not extend its life, Public Citizen told state lawmakers.

If the fund is extended to 2009, as is being proposed in Assembly Bill 1245, the state would in effect become a broker in the water market, violating its responsibility as a public steward of water, Public Citizen told members of the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife in a recent letter. The committee is scheduled to consider a fund extension today at 9 a.m. in Room 437 of the California State Capitol (10th and L Streets).

“The Environmental Water Account is a marketing shell game masquerading as environmental policy,” said of Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen’s Water for All campaign. “There is nothing environmental about this. It should be called the Extortionist’s Water Account.”

The EWA was created in 2000 to protect endangered fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which provides drinking water for about 22 million Californians. When the massive state pumps that lift water 244 feet out of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and into the California Aqueduct suck up too many endangered fish species, federal and state regulators slow down the pumps so that the fish can, in theory, swim away.

The state tracks how much water has not been pumped due to the slower pumping rates and uses taxpayer money to buy an equal amount of water that has already been stored south of the Delta. The state pays for that water to be sent to those with the heaviest demands, which are primarily large agribusiness companies.

One of those is Paramount Farming Company, which is owned by Stewart Resnick, one of the 50 wealthiest residents of Los Angeles. Paramount contracts to have State Water Project water delivered to Kern County and stores much of it in an empty aquifer under former state land known as the Kern Water Bank. Paramount, through a wholly owned subsidiary, is half owner of the water bank. Now, when the Delta pumps need to be slowed down to protect fish, the EWA pays Paramount to pump the water back out of the aquifer and on to local agribusinesses, potentially even their own land.

To date, the account has spent nearly $140 million in taxpayer dollars. However, the endangered fish populations have continued to drop. No studies exist that provide solid evidence of benefits to fish from EWA operations.

“The EWA makes taxpayers pay for water agencies to comply with the Endangered Species Act and turns the state into a water market auctioneer in the process,” said John Gibler, a researcher with the Water for All campaign in California. “It is a good idea to turn down the pumps to avoid killing endangered fish, but definitely a bad idea to use this as a ruse to create a water market that bolsters the finances of the wealthiest agribusinesses in the state.”

The bill also states that the EWA can reduce the risk of conflicts. But instead of addressing the conflict between agribusiness and environmental groups, the payments have simply mollified the companies.

“We do not think that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars should be spent to soften conflicts while the reasons behind the conflicts remain unaddressed,” Public Citizen’s letter states.

To read a copy of Public Citizen’s letter, click here.