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Thursday, Jan 03 2013 11:00 PM

JUSTIN GRIFFIN: Let's prevent public resource from being peddled for profit

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    Justin Griffin

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An issue important to all Californians that should become the center of focus in the upcoming decades does not get talked about enough by the media today, and that issue is water. Already, wars are being fought over this precious element, and though this state is already one of the battlegrounds, the fighting will become more severe in the future.

Most readers should know that we've had a drought in much of the state on and off for decades. One of the solutions that the state government has implemented to combat this is a storage system called a water bank. This is a recent practice that has been developed because water supplies are low and above-average precipitation in one year might be more needed in another. It is a practical solution, in that one is able to better provide for areas in a drought and save water for those times when it is not a drought.

The state invested $74 million in one of these water banks on an old abandoned piece of farmland near Bakersfield as part of the State Water Project to combat the high water prices Kern County residents were paying. Unfortunately, the state was not able to put the Kern Water Bank in operation due to an archaic state law that requires the California Department of Water Resources to receive local approval for groundwater projects, which Kern County would not grant at the time.

In order to circumvent this, ownership of the water bank was traded to the Kern County Water Agency in return for Kern County relinquishing a share of its claim to the water. At this point, the water bank still belonged to the state and its citizens. However, the KCWA then turned over the water bank to a conglomeration known as the Kern Water Bank Authority, which was made up of a number of water districts and the private West Side Mutual Water Co., effectively giving away public resources to private investors looking to profit.

Though this battle is still ongoing due to lawsuits, right now it is California citizens that are on the losing side of the effort to secure public resources from the greed of private investors looking to profit on a natural resource. Readers should expect things like this to become more common in the future. Natural resource privatization, especially water privatization, is a huge threat to the way of life of citizens in the state and will continue to cause further problems. That's why it is so important to be able to identify when this is happening and do your best to stop it.

The lasting effect from this battle is that water that was originally intended for public use in Kern County is now being sold in order for a small number of individuals to receive profit. If the water is used for the sake of areas outside the county (as it almost certainly is in this case), additional costs can be accrued by people living in the county in the form of higher taxes. Worst of all, it sets the standard for this type of public resource grab and inures the public to when it happens.

My hope is that by bringing this battle to the attention of readers that voters will take a more proactive stance in protecting natural resources in California from being given away to private interests.

Justin Griffin is a research analyst working at Cal State Monterey Bay.

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