Agriculture

Calif. lawmakers demand probe into hedge funds, Harvard buying up water rights

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Bakersfield) and state Sen. Dave Cortese (D-San Jose) are calling for U. S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate possible drought profiteering and water rights abuses in the western states.

“As the West grapples with historic drought, California farmers and water managers are struggling to find the water we need to survive.  We must be able to determine how anti-competitive practices and corporate investors may be disrupting water rights – leading to potential water shortages, water theft, and skyrocketing water rates,” Hurtado said in a news release Wednesday.

Said Cortese: “Private interests have zeroed in on our precious water supplies and are buying up local water rights, the economic and social impacts of which could be disastrous. Water scarcity is already worsening, threatened by climate change, pollution, and increased demand. We must stand firm in keeping water a resource for the public.”

In addition to raising anti-trust questions, Hurtado and Cortese expressed concern about the potential for hedge funds to divert water intended for food production to cannabis growing operations.

“Recent investigations have cited complex operations involving the purchase or leasing of land and water rights to support substantial (cannabis) grows,” they wrote to Garland.

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.