California Senators Hurtado and Cortese call on the U.S. Department of Justice to Investigate Potential Drought Profiteering by Corporate Investors

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SACRAMENTO, CA – Today, Senator Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger), joined her colleague, Senator Dave Cortese, in sending a letter to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland requesting an investigation into possible drought profiteering and water rights abuses in the Western states.  The Senators are concerned about the increasing amount of water rights being purchased by hedge funds, their potential anti-competitive practices and the devastating impact that could have on our water security.


“I am concerned about the increase in water profiteering across California and the Western States,” said Senator Melissa Hurtado. “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.”


“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,” says Senator Cortese. “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.”


He added, "Nowhere is there more urgent demand for the application of the public trust doctrine regarding water rights than these practices which literally steal our most life dependent resource from ourselves and future generations in exchange for a profit.”


“As a representative of the La Paz County Board of Supervisor’s here in Arizona, I share the same concerns Senator Hurtado has raised regarding Water Rights purchasing and potential drought profiting in our Western states,” said Holly Irwin, La Paz County, AZ  District 3 Supervisor. “I am seeing this first hand in the unincorporated town I live in and the District I represent. Currently we are awaiting a decision to be made by the Department of the Interior on the transfer of 1,078.01 acre feet per year of 4th priority water rights off the Colorado River owned by GSC Farms LLC to the Town of Queen Creek located 188 miles away from Cibola. I believe this is setting damaging policy that threatens our water and economic development for my constituents and our river communities all for profits.”


Two of the most important water systems in the Western United States are the Colorado River and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  The two systems provide water to approximately 70 million people, which is roughly 20 percent of the population of the entire United States, and they irrigate millions of acres of agricultural land across multiple states. Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River alone provide more than 4,200 megawatts of energy, enough to power 840,000 homes on a hot day. Market based control of these systems could have devastating impacts to those that depend on the water for their daily needs, their livelihoods or their lives.


Recent reports indicate that private investor interest in water rights purchasing, which was likely propelled by the 2015 water crisis in California, has increased significantly.


California’s drought conditions continue to worsen, and every part of the state will be impacted. The state is seeing an increase in water restrictions—in some districts for the first time ever. Approximately six million people will be affected by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s recent decision to declare a water shortage emergency and order outdoor usage restrictions.


In Mendocino County, water theft is leaving rivers and streams dry throughout the Russian River waterways. The problem is so serious in one district, there are concerns about the availability of water to fight fires, and locks have been put on hydrants to prevent further water loss.


In the Central Valley, drought has led to an increase in the price of agricultural products, affecting the food supply system as a whole. Many towns across California face massive water curtailments and some have watched their wells run dry, forcing them to jump through hoops and hurdles just to provide enough water to survive.


Access to safe drinking water and freshwater resources are essential to the health of California’s economy and communities.



About Senator Melissa Hurtado


Senator Melissa Hurtado represents a new generation of Latina leaders, as the youngest woman ever elected to the California State Senate and as a product of immigrant parents. Senator Hurtado represents the 14th Senate District and focuses on rural community issues that often go unheard — access to clean air and water, food insecurity and poverty, inequities in environmental policies, agriculture and access to health care. In July 2020, she was appointed to the national Biden Latino Leadership Committee alongside former Labor Secretary and current Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis – the only two California Latinas on the Committee.


For more information, visit Senator Hurtado’s Website here or find her on Twitter at @Senator_Hurtado