I was all fired up to write a series of posts about this article in the Hanford Sentinel, mostly about this part:
That’s why the Kings County Water Commission spent a good chunk of a Monday night meeting talking about a Westside landowner who plans to sell 14,000 acre-feet of water a year to the Mojave Water Agency in San Bernardino County for $5,500 per acre-foot.
That’s $77 million of the wet stuff headed out of the county for likely urban development (an acre-foot is enough water to supply a typical home for a year, according to Wikipedia).
$5,500 per acrefoot is an outrageous price, so I figured there was an outrageous story behind it. I figured it was money laundering, and then my friend speculated it was probably connected to intended solar projects in the Mojave. This was plausible because the sellers are masters of milking the public subsidy. I figured that like any good corporation, they’d created a shadow entity to be the purchasers, Mojave Water Agency was a pass-through, and Sandridge Partners would now be farming subsidized solar energy (which requires cooling water) instead of subsidized cotton.
It was a good conspiracy fantasy, which is why I’m still telling you, even though the thing that caught my eye was wrong. Mojave Water Agency isn’t paying $5,500 per af-year (twice the cost of desal). I couldn’t find a citation for that, so I called the reporter. MWA is paying a lump sum up front for the water right. They’ll own all the future flows that water right can command for $77M, which might well be a decent price for water. I suppose it might actually be water for the stated purpose (subdivisions).
I only have a couple points to make, instead of the scandalous series of muckraking posts I’d hoped to do.
1. This tells me that farming corporations are pulling out of the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Assuming corporations are making cold, hard business decisions and not emotional decisions about “being a farmer”, they think the era is over. They are cashing out. I don’t know what factors they weight (Subsidy reform? Climate change predictions about less precip? Maybe they don’t think Obama will build them the West Side Drain? ) but they’ll trade their future on the west side for $77M. Can’t come a day too soon, says I, except for the cashing out part.
2. I enjoyed reading the Negative Declaration quite a bit, for a rare look at a shy water district. Dudley Ridge Water District covers 37,000 acres completely owned by eight farming corporations. There are no towns, and the district has no staff. There is no public for this water district. Perhaps the district directors fly in for the annual meeting on the several private airstrips the Neg Dec mentions. Or maybe they just meet at home in San Jose. The article says:
Dudley Ridge Water District, where Sandridge’s land is located, has adopted a policy divvying its water among member property owners. That gives each the right to sell their share.
No representatives from Sandridge Partners or Dudley Ridge Water District spoke at Monday’s meeting.
Yeah, I bet they didn’t. They aren’t answerable to the likes of some county water commission.
3. I despise the injustice behind permanently vesting water rights in whomever filed for them two generations ago, and making those rights marketable. Mojave Water Agency serves a relatively poor community. It infuriates me that they had to give some of the richest people in the world $77M for unreliable water. They made the trade, so maybe they think it was worth it. But it is incredibly unjust and as a society, we could choose fairer ways to make sure towns get the water they need.