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Water flows to money in the banana republic of California

california water allocation
Respected water wonk David Zetland details how California’s system of allocating water is broken, corrupt, routinely allocates more water than it has, and resembles a banana republic. Yes, there’s a drought. However an antiquated system of water law that is gamed by the wealthy to the detriment of the general public makes things worse. In California law, those with the oldest water rights take priority over everyone else. It doesn’t matter if they use water inefficiently or if their water use drains aquifers and lakes. Zetland says California lawmakers need to show some spine and change the laws so ecosystems that benefit all are not destroyed. Because those ecosystems are what provide water to Californians. Exploit them too much and they will be gone.

An insane person, some say, repeats the same mistakes while expecting different results. Just a few weeks ago, the Feds announced an agreement that gave Jean Sagouspe and other Westlands farmers a permanent water contract in exchange for their pledge to “take care” of a drainage problem that was going to cost the government hundreds of millions to fix. This flawed settlement was particularly galling because it simultaneously wrote off massive debt while conferring rights to water that isn’t really there in exchange for a promise that Westlands would “do its best” to stop toxic salinity from draining into wetlands.

You usually only see sweetheart deals like this for Wall Street, but bankers are not uniquely persuasive. As the L.A. Times reported, “Westlands spends heavily on lobbyists – $2.3 million in Washington since 2012, and $576,000 in Sacramento.”

In 1904, O. Henry described a banana republic as a Central American country whose corrupt politicians sacrifice citizens on behalf of fruit companies. California has always been a banana-shaped state, but its ongoing and deepening policy failures are giving it a reputation as a banana republic where money talks, citizens suffer and the future be damned.

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