Advocates urge action to tackle Big Ag water abuse as drought worsens, voluntary conservation fails

By Dan Bacher | 

Sacramento – Domestic water use in California rose by 19 percent in March, exposing what Food & Water Watch describes as the “clear failure” of Governor Gavin Newsom’s repeated pleas for voluntary reductions in household water consumption, as well as California’s failure to rein in Big Ag and other corporate water abusers.

This morning the San Francisco Chronicle published an article entitled, “California drought: Water usage jumps 19% in March despite Newsom’s plea for savings.”

“The message about California’s need for water savings isn’t being heard,” reported Kurtis Alexander in the Chronicle. “Despite a deepening drought often compared to the miserably dry years of the late 1970s, state residents are conserving far less than the 15% Gov. Gavin Newsom has requested, and in most cases, have started using even more water than they have in the past.”

Food & Water Watch and other environmental advocates have long urged mandatory action to curb excessive urban water use and the need to rein in some of the biggest corporate water abusers such as Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Linda Resnick, which they say Newsom has thus far ignored.

Research from the nonprofit environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch lays out the enormous scale of corporate water abuse among fossil fuel interests and agribusiness in California’s San Joaquin Valley,” according to a press statement from Food & Water Watch. “Tulare County houses most of the state’s mega-dairies and half of its water supplies are predicted to go dry this year.” 

“It’s beyond clear that voluntary cutbacks on household water usage won’t make a dent in the impacts of this climate change driven drought across the state,” said Mark Schlosberg, Managing Director of Research and Litigation for Food & Water Watch. “If Governor Newsom is serious about dealing with this water crisis, his laissez-faire attitude towards the drought must stop. It's time to address water-intensive and polluting industries like out-of-control corporate agriculture and oil extraction, while enforcing mandates to curb excessive water use in households.” 

80 percent of the state’s water goes to agriculture, including heavy water users like almonds, the group reported.

“In 2019, more than 60 percent of almonds produced in California were exported, rerouting 910 billion gallons of water out of the state for corporate profit. It takes 142 millions of gallons of water every day to operate California’s mega-dairies, enough to supply every person in San Diego and San Jose with their needed daily water,” the group stated.

At the same time as voluntary water conservation has failed so far in California, the Governor has been moving forward with the Big Ag-backed Delta Tunnel, voluntary water agreements and the construction of Sites Reservoir. These projects will only worsen the ecological collapse in the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and hasten the extinction of endangered Sacramento River spring and winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and longfin smelt and green sturgeon.

Newsom’s support of these projects is no surprise, since Stewart and Lynda Resnick, billionaire agribusiness tycoons and major promoters of the Delta Tunnel and increased water pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, have donated a total of $366,800 to Governor Gavin Newsom since 2018, including $250,000 to the campaign to fight the Governor’s recall. 

Newsom received a total of $755,198 in donations from agribusiness in the 2018 election cycle, based on the data from That figure includes a combined $116,800 from Stewart and Lynda Resnick and $58,400 from E.J. Gallo, combined with $579,998 in the agriculture donations category. 

The Resnicks, the Koch Brothers of California

The Resnicks, nicknamed “the Koch Brothers of California” by activists, have contributed many millions of dollars to candidates from both sides of the political aisle and to proposition campaigns so they can continue selling back public water to the public at a huge profit while promoting legislation and other efforts to weaken laws protecting fish, wildlife and water. The Resnicks are considered the largest tree fruit growers in the world.

The Resnicks have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to not only Newsom, but to Jerry Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other governors in California.

In November 2018, the Resnicks’ Wonderful Orchards LLC donated $100,000 to Jerry Meral’s unsuccessful Proposition 3 water bond campaign that would have funded projects to benefit the Resnicks and other growers.

The Resnicks also contributed $150,000 to Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 1 water bond campaign in the fall of 2014. 

The Resnicks have also donated many hundreds of millions of dollars throughout their Resnick Family Foundation to the University of California system and the arts in California. 

Newsom joins Resnicks in groundbreaking for Caltech’s Resnick ‘Sustainability” Center

Most recently, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Company, joined Caltech president Thomas F. Rosenbaum, California governor Gavin Newsom, Pasadena mayor Victor Gordo, and other guests and members of the Caltech community on May 4 to break ground on the Resnick Sustainability Center (RSC) in the type of cynical photo opportunity that could only take place in the faux “green and progressive” state of California. A photo published with the release shows the Resnicks posing with shovels right next to a broadly smiling Governor Newsom, also holding a shovel:

A press release from Caltech claimed, “The 79,500-square-foot project, which will grace the western edge of the Caltech campus, was made possible by a $750 million pledge from the Resnicks to Caltech. The gift, made in 2019, is the largest in the Institute's history and among the largest ever for environmental sustainability research.”

“When completed in 2024, the Resnick Sustainability Center will open new figurative portals to sustainability in the realms of research, education, and societal impact,” the release continued.

"For Lynda and me, this is an incredibly significant investment," said Stewart Resnick, chairman and president of the Wonderful Company, speaking at the ceremony.

"Caltech has always been a place where we humans turn in moments of extreme vulnerability for reassurance when the ground moves under our feet—to help us comprehend terrible scenes of fire and drought here in the west,” Resnick gushed. “We put our faith and the entirety of our support into the brilliant minds at Caltech. The achievements that will emerge from this sustainability institute, housed in what will be this world-class center, will help make our world safer, more healthy, more sustainable, and a better home for generations to come. Lynda and I and every one of our colleagues at the Wonderful Company are proud to call Caltech partners."

According to the release, in his remarks, Governor Gavin Newsom (noting that he was the only politician in the world who could get away with it) recalled a comment from the former head of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia: ‘He had a wonderful quote that, as I'm sitting here, I reflected on: He said that you don't want to be the best of the best; you want to be the only one that does what you do. And I think about that statement in the context of where we are at Caltech. No one does what you do. You are not the 'best of the best'—you reinvented the space. But so have the Resnicks, in terms of their largesse, in terms of their remarkable entrepreneurial spirit, and the two are coming together at this remarkable moment.”

However, Delta, fish and public trust advocates pointed out the irony of the Resnicks funding a “sustainability center” when they are the living definition of unsustainable corporate agribusiness operations in California.

Critics respond to Caltech news release

In a tweet, Restore the Delta responded to the Caltech press release by asking, “What about Delta sustainability ⁦@GavinNewsom⁩? What about our community needs, water quality, air quality, local infrastructure, and economic development needs?”

Those are very good questions.

Of course, not mentioned in the press release was how the couple’s huge agricultural operations, based in Kern County, use more water annually than every home in Los Angeles combined, according to an article by Josh Harkinson in Mother Jones magazine on August 9, 2016:

Nor does the release mention that Resnicks became notorious for buying water for as little as $28 per acre-foot from the State of California and then selling it for as much as $196 per acre-foot back to the state, according to an article by the late Mike Taugher in the Contra Costa Times on May 23, 2009, who broke the story on the water abuse by the Resnicks. The state then used this water to supply other irrigators whose Delta water supply had been previously curtailed.

“As the West Coast’s largest estuary plunged to the brink of collapse from 2000 to 2007, state water officials pumped unprecedented amounts of water out of the Delta only to effectively buy some of it back at taxpayer expense for a failed environmental protection plan, a MediaNews investigation has found,” according to Taugher.

I will end this story with a quote from investigative journalist Yasha Levine, who in his latest article vividly describes the absurdity of the “Resnick Sustainable Center” being funded by two of the most unsustainable billionaire oligarchs in California:

“Their latest ploy is this $750 million ‘Resnick Sustainability Center’ that they’re building at Caltech — a joke considering that the Resnick’s entire business model is based on unsustainably terraforming the land and plundering resources to the maximum. But then it’s not so funny what you realize that what the Resnicks probably have in mind with all this ‘sustainability’ talk is making sure their own industrial plunder will be sustained as long as possible without any serious political challenges. It looks like that’s what their Caltech investment is about.”

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