Drought means opportunity for some

September 25, 2014

draughtPART ONE: Water, money, need, and greed


California’s persistent 30-month dry period has provoked statewide cries for major changes in current water resources practices, and is sparking renewed campaigns for more dams and big water project developments.

Predictable, perhaps, but such a political reaction to drought is translating into a call to action for moneyed interests seeking to profit from this climate fluctuation — some of whom are partly responsible for exacerbating today’s water shortages.

One person’s drought horror story, it turns out, is another’s cornucopia of opportunities.

It is, for example, a most fortunate confluence of events for some San Luis Obispo County businesses and individuals, who have banded together to craft a concept — and draft a legislator or two — hoping to create a special water district to manage the massive Paso Robles water basin.

Their interest is understandable. Almost without exception, proponents of the district are the very people, corporations, or public agencies culpable in over-drafting the aquifer in order to proliferate seemingly endless vineyard production and tourist growth, ignoring the looming but undeniable specter of critical water shortage.

A demand for the resource in the North County has swollen exponentially and now the wine-rich region has a built-in, irreversible need for ever-increasing supplies of water.

All the while, the city of Paso Robles — the aquifer’s most aggressive user and an entity that won’t be part of any future water district — is optimistically approving construction of a parade of large hotels, spas, and other water-using, tourist-oriented businesses.

This surge of demand has created the potential for a financial bonanza if a water district can successfully be formed: board members would acquire total control over a resource with an estimated worth of more than $106 billion dollars. (At a Los Angeles conference on groundwater hosted by Cadiz last summer, noted economist David Sunding opined that 300,000 acre-feet of “storage capacity” in a basin has an actual value of $1 billion dollars. The Paso basin, the largest west of the Rockies, contains 31.9 million acre-feet of storage capacity. And this capacity is as valuable as the actual water that might occupy the space.)

Faced last spring with potential collapse of the area’s very economy as the dry period lengthened and worsened and local water stores shrank, a group coalesced, comprised of vintners, wine industry marketeers, and ranchers. It became the Paso Robles Agricultural Alliance for Groundwater Solutions (PRAAGS), and its objective has been to form a water district to allow control of the basin’s supply.

This confederation was joined by four individuals, working under the label of PRO Water Equity, and together they championed controversial legislation carried by Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo).

While his bill, AB 2453, worked its way through the Legislature, a larger water issue was being debated by lawmakers, one that could be exploited to help grease the skids for approval of a water district.

With the entire western United States entering a fourth year of paucity of precipitation, California officials last year began — for the first time since the Gold Rush — to take a closer and more serious look at the management practices governing pumping from the state’s 157 underground water aquifers. What studies found was that few, if any, of those basins were being managed to any degree. And that made California the only state in the West that did not comprehensively manage those underground waters.

That set into motion a campaign by Gov. Jerry Brown for legislation calling for groundwater “reform” — resulting in successful passage this summer of a package of new laws which will begin creation of a statewide management system. New laws require that local groundwater agencies be formed by 2017, and that so-called “sustainability plans” be in place by 2020.

Also required will be reporting of groundwater conditions to water officials, which might eventually allow some kind of cognizance of statewide subterranean conditions.

This reform effort became a cudgel used by North County water district promoters to float the spurious claim that the state would swoop in to regulate the Paso basin if that was not accomplished locally.

The state agency initially caused local concern by informing supervisors that “we understand that the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin is in a state of serious overdraft with water levels continuing to decline.” Any “progress” made by San Luis Obispo County toward that end would be “tracked and reported back to me,” wrote Thomas Howard, the agency’s executive director.

With vigorous community activity ongoing regarding the Paso basin’s future, it would have been a very unlikely target of the new corrective legislation, officials of the state’s Water Resources Control Board (WRCB) eventually admitted.

The agency also later would concede that their source for the “overdraft” statement had been a few newspaper articles. But in the interim, the perceived threat would be used by water district proponents and their marketing company, Barnett Cox and Associates, as the primary reason for moving quickly.

And move quickly they have. The claim was bombastic enough to spur Achadjian’s legislation to the governor’s signature, and now it remains for the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) to determine ground rules for a formation election.

In the meantime, PRAAGS members have launched an effort to defeat a county proposal to ban exports of water, despite their repeated assertions that they oppose such transfers. However, critics of the district plan say that proponents are eying a system including water banking, transfers, and exchanges of water supplies and entitlements.

Jerry Reaugh, chairman of PRAAGS, wrote in a Sept. 2014 letter to county supervisors that “we believe it is inappropriate for the County to make any such determination as to the movement, transfer or delivery of groundwater outside the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.”

Reaugh said any such action is premature “until the impact of the current [groundwater legislation] is fully understood.”

Next: Public service, or profiteering?

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  1. r0y says:

    Whiskey is for Drinkin’

    Water is for Fighting Over!

    (8) 14 Total Votes - 11 up - 3 down
  2. JMO says:

    Yes, a Drought does open up opportunity. It shows which communities planned for drought and which ones didn’t. The Metropolitan Water District (the big gorilla that everyone hates) paid millions to water bank groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley, among other things. They have plenty of water even after 30 months of drought and lower flows from the Colorado River. Private companies that have extra water to sell are being rewarded in the free market. And finally, this gives those who did nothing during times of plentiful water to call those that planned and invested during times of plenty as “Greedy”. Wait? By being lazy in times of plenty, aren’t you the ones who are really “Greedy”?

    (7) 11 Total Votes - 9 up - 2 down
  3. diamond says:

    Water is the new oil. This has been in the making / taking for some time. The Bush family and other wealthy tycoons have been gobbling up water rights in other countries for years, so, obviously “insiders” have known for some time that water would become the next big commodity. Quote: Water is Not a Right. It Should Be Given a ‘Market Value and Privatized. Hmmmm, who would say that? Nestlé’s 68-year-old former CEO and current Chairman, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, says he wants to privatize the water supply because people have a sense of entitlement that causes them to waste copious amounts of water. That all sounds well and good until you realize that, as the #1 seller of water in the world, 8% of Nestlé’s 2011 sales were from bottled water. Corporations like Nestle, are the new breed of greedy soulless pigs that continue to devalue human life. Those who cannot afford to buy water should do without. Do research on the Bush family and water rights. If you think they cannot steal these rights from you, you are mistaken. These are the same corporations who donate the most to political candidates. When elected, their politicians pay back their contributors with human flesh. Our little drought is just the tip of corporate opportunities.

    (13) 37 Total Votes - 25 up - 12 down
    • racket says:

      Not sure I follow your Nestlé riff. People want to buy water, and Nestle wants to sell it. No boogieman there. If they don’t want to buy Nestle’s water, they can buy or get their water elsewhere, right? Why rag on Nestle if ‘people’ have failed to look out for themselves and protect their water supply? A little bit of spin, and you could point out that “Nestle is the #1 one provider in the world of clean drinking water.” Two sides, one coin.

      (-10) 38 Total Votes - 14 up - 24 down
      • NCGuy says:

        Racket- your not understanding the Nestle riff, just illustrates your shear lack of knowledge of the water issues facing each of us. Can you not see that Corporate Greed and Power can influence Local, State and Federal Government officials into selling the individuals down the river by taking their rights (water) legislatively and then allowing the Corporate pin heads to sell back to the individuals, exactly the same item (water), that was taken through their influence? The Corporate entities that have moved in locally and are pushing for this sham of a Water District have only their own pockets in mind. Once the Water District is formed, taxes and assessments are the next gift given to the individuals. The following is a quote from one of our Corporate neighbors when a government agency tried to impose new taxes their extraction of groundwater “In its statement, Fiji Water president John Cochran said Fiji’s government announced last week that it was imposing a new tax rate of 15 cents per liter on companies extracting more than 3.5 million liters (920,000 gallons) of water a month – up from the current one-third of one percent rate. Fiji Water is the only company extracting that much water. “This new tax is untenable and as a consequence, Fiji Water is left with no choice but to close our facility in Fiji,” the company, which sells its bottled water in more than 40 countries, said. Now this quote is old, but it certainly shows the mindset of these people.

        The irony in this is astounding!

        (6) 20 Total Votes - 13 up - 7 down
        • racket says:

          Fijian government made a deal with a private co, and then sweetened the deal for themselves by passing a tax that reaches into only one pocket. A case could be made that the Fijian govt is the one who is not playing fair.

          (-2) 18 Total Votes - 8 up - 10 down
        • racket says:


          Do you really have a “right” to water?

          Does that “right” follow you wherever you go? If you go to Death Valley, do you have the “right” to water? If so, how much of it? Does YOUR right to that water usurp the “right” of whoever/whatever was using that water before you got there?

          Or does your “right” to water only exist where you perceive an abundance of water? Can you move to Paso and demand your “right” to your “fair share” of water? Or, did you establish your “right” to Paso water by being there longer than someone else, and therefore it’s okay that your “right” to water precludes some newcomer from their right water?

          Water is vital and necessary, but you don’t have a right to it.

          (6) 16 Total Votes - 11 up - 5 down
          • The Word says:

            I own a well and I believe I have a right to the water produced from it.

            (11) 11 Total Votes - 11 up - 0 down
            • willnose says:

              Yes, you do – until a nearby vineyard, large AG business sinks a deeper well, lowers the basin, eventually you wind up high and dry yourself. This is our generations wake-up/grow up call.

              We have to address the present system’s shortcoming, flaws. The ever-growing demand for water between industry, population growth, more subdivisions, etc. necessitates a new equitable and fair re- distribution. Natural limitations make it essential to require conservation, reuse, and recharging of aquifers! Universal metering requirements are long overdue in places like San Joaquin cities that have no water metering to this present day!
              Our current practices, and past ways are no longer adequate, fair nor sustainable! I won’t even address the climate change issues, nor the contentious rhetoric, the effects are undeniable across the country, globe! ….Huston – we have a problem!”

              (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down
            • racket says:

              The Word:

              I, too, believe you have the right to use the water produced from your well.

              Does your downstream neighbor have the ‘right’ to modify your use, to protect his ‘right’ to use the water from his well? Does your ‘right’ to use the water your well produces include the ‘right’ to demand that your upstream neighbor pump in a manner that doesn’t preclude your usage?

              If you’ve got 1000 acres, do you have more ‘right’ to pump water from your wells than a 2.5 acre parcel? How much more? If you have the 2.5 acre parcel, do you have the ‘right’ to demand the 1000 acre parcel modify their behavior so that you can pump your ‘rightful’ water?

              Does your ‘right’ to pump water apply only to your existing well? If it requires replacement, do the ‘rights’ from the old well go with the new one?

              Was your ‘right’ created when you bought your parcel? When you drilled your well? When your neighbor bought his parcel? When your neighbor planted vines? When?

              Sticky stuff.

              (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
      • roberttorrance says:

        15 years ago when bottle water started selling for the same cost as a soda, i began asking myself, wth?

        (12) 14 Total Votes - 13 up - 1 down
    • willnose says:

      Diamond – You are a jewel of brilliant clarity against a dull rock-in-a-box.

      Anyone, other than shills for “Big Business might, fittest survives – screw the peons” understands what it is; our own “Chinatown” / Mullholland version of Owens Valley Lake.

      Can’t drink money once water is gone!
      Great writing, as is Dan Blackburn’s excellent article!

      (11) 19 Total Votes - 15 up - 4 down
    • Rich in MB says:

      There you have it….it’s all Bushes Fault.
      I sure miss the Bush Economy over the Obama mess.

      (5) 29 Total Votes - 17 up - 12 down
      • MajorityFan says:

        An economy that sunk our nation? 4000 needless military deaths and over 100,000 Iraquis died over nonexistent WMDs? A president who flew around in a jet for 2 days when 9/11 happened? Hid from Katrina? Can’t leave the country because he would be arrested for crimes of war in any country he lands in? A military deserter and convicted felon? Please explain your rationale.

        (-9) 35 Total Votes - 13 up - 22 down
      • koda says:

        No, fault lies with system. Divide and conquer tactics are employed to distract, confuse, and refocus attention away from genuine issues in order to preserve the status quo. Once you get beyond the rhetoric, follow the money, and focus on actual policy implementations, youll see that the adage about the new boss being the same as the old boss is well founded. Leaders, especially at the federal level, are no longer elected — they are bought, and problems are purposely exacerbated in the name of profitability. We are going to keep getting ripped off unless we rise above their sophisticated, divisive games, stop passing the blame, and begin cooperating/problem solving. The media is the primary force that defines our perceptions of reality, so be weary of the message they are trying to give you :)

        (15) 17 Total Votes - 16 up - 1 down
      • Keith says:

        national debt after first 200 years = $0.9 Trillion
        national debt after next 12 years of Reagan and GHWB = $4.1 Trillion
        national debt after next 8 years of Clinton = $5.4 Trillion
        national debt after next 8 years of GWB = $11 Trillion

        22 million jobs created under Clinton
        close to zero jobs created under GWB. Worst 8 years of any US economy since The Great Depression—-if you look at his first 4 years, six years, or full eight years.

        It’s a capitalist’s dream to charge people for water. People will pay any price rather than die. Maybe “air” will be next.

        It’s Bush’s fault. Not Bushes fault.

        (3) 9 Total Votes - 6 up - 3 down
        • JMO says:


          Checked your numbers and they are relatively correct (Clinton 5.6T, Bush 9T). Bush actually let the economy get overheated, then it melted. There were tons of new jobs during Bush’s middle years, but it was based on a false lending scheme. Plus Bush way overspent in Iraq. Should have gone in and got out (like he said when he was running for president – no “nation building”). Overall, I would rate Bush as a D on the economy. I also have to hand it to Clinton, he didn’t suck on the economy as much as I thought (no, I’m not going there).

          Now we have the last almost 6 years. WHOA! WHOA! What a fiasco! It is easy to blame Obama, and frankly we expect the president to provide better guidance than that, but it also falls on congress. My biggest complaint about borrowing without debate is that we end up wasting the money because it doesn’t really hurt the politicians constituents. Their taxes don’t go up so the voters aren’t as upset as they should be.

          We need strong leadership, probably from the president, that corrects our physical ship. Could be a Democrat, could be a Republican, but it sure isn’t who we have now.

          (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down

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