by Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta [restorethedelta.org], published 2014-04-25 by "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/Billionaires-influence-felt-in-state-s-water-5430496.php]:
To track the outsized influence of Stewart and Lynda Resnick is tough because they have so many subsidiaries and so much money. There are Paramount Farms, Westside Mutual Water Company, a subsidiary of Roll International called Roll Global, which exports almonds - the list goes on and on.
The influence of the Resnicks and their cohorts in the Westlands and Kern water districts has been brought to bear so heavily on the governor's office during the past three administrations that the fix is basically in on building the peripheral tunnels.
The Resnicks made $270,000 in contributions to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, $350,000 to support Gov. Gray Davis, and $102,000 to Gov. Jerry Brown. As a result of the political influence of billionaires who receive taxpayer-subsidized water, the state Department of Water Resources functions almost as a subsidiary of the water exporters.
The outsize influence of delta water exporters can be seen in the recent "drought relief" action by state and federal regulators, which undid with the stroke of a pen Endangered Species Act protections for fisheries that were the result of a decade-long legal challenge. In addition to the requirements set in the biological opinions for delta fisheries, there are three sets of water quality standards arrived at through legal processes that already take into account critical dry-year situations. Two sets of water quality standards are being waived as part of drought emergency measures - one set to protect fisheries, another set to protect water quality for delta family farms.
Beyond that, requirements in the court-issued biological opinions to protect fisheries are being waived. Now, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is working with San Joaquin Valley congressional representatives, who have received numerous campaign contributions from Stewart Resnick, on legislation to further weaken already inadequate protections in order to facilitate increased pumping of delta water to southern water users.
In just this year, Westlands Water District's budget includes a $1 million "community outreach" campaign by a New York political ad firm specializing in "brand identity" and "brand loyalty," more than $250,000 spent on D.C. lobbyists and $135,000 on Sacramento lobbyists. They're getting good returns on their influence-buying investments.
Many would say the process begins back in the Davis administration with the delivery of a state asset, the Kern Water Bank, to the private interests of the Resnick companies. Under Gov. Schwarzenegger, and in the closing days of the Bush administration, fundamental changes were made to the purpose of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan that turned it into a water-export plan, with a shadow group directing the project under the auspices of the Department of Water Resources.
There is a revolving door for Westlands employees in government. Westlands Chief Deputy General Manager Jason Peltier served in the Interior Department in the Bush administration.
Employees of Westlands and the State Water Contractors have been "on loan" to the Department of Water Resources, overseeing water projects that impact their employers directly, before becoming department employees.
In July 2012, Gov. Brown and U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar announced their support for the 9,000 cubic-foot-per-second delta water tunnels before any environmental impact report was completed, or a record of decision issued.
Current State Water Project contract negotiators include representatives with ties to Paramount Farms, who have a privileged seat at the table along with other water contractors. Yet the public and Legislature won only observation status of these negotiations through a legal challenge. So the people have no voice, just the right to watch, while the Department of Water Resources and the water contractors negotiate a 50-year contract extension, reducing bond reserve safeguards by 50 percent, and leaving taxpayers on the hook for "fish and wildlife" mitigations required under federal permits, in addition to operation and maintenance costs for those facilities. These negotiators have yet to work out financing for the peripheral tunnels.
The outsize influence of subsidized mega-growers yields significant indirect control of our state and federal agencies that regulate them. That's a problem, as their private interests trump the public interest.