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Draining Us For Profits: Ongoing West Coast Water Crisis Compounded By Corporate Greed

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Capitalism has brought to our doors the critical impacts of climate change: From worsening natural disasters claiming the lives and homes of millions around the globe, to depleting and contaminating humanity’s most vital resources. The Colorado River, one of the largest and most essential river systems in the country, is drying up as a result of global warming and crooked mismanagement of its limited fresh water supply. Rising temperatures have disrupted the existing water cycle by speeding up evaporation, which means lower low tides and prolonged droughts. More and more localities have been affected by droughts, particularly on the West Coast of the US. The Colorado River provides drinking water and hydropower for over 40 million people across 8 US states, 2 Mexican states, and serves Native American Tribal communities.

Drought conditions don’t just mean less water. Like many impacts of climate change, this can ripple through a chain reaction that exacerbates existing threats. Droughts can also lead to higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by killing off vegetation able to store it. Dying foliage also means a higher chance of wildfires and soil erosion, which further pushes CO2 into the atmosphere heating up the planet even more.

It is clear to anyone the need for a reliable fresh water supply – as a matter of public health and well-being. But instead of taking measures to reverse these effects by cutting down on carbon emissions, Wall Street alongside the corporate establishment have taken to plundering the diminished reservoir. “Thirsty” crops like Alfalfa, Almonds, Grapes, and Pistachios are needlessly farmed year round, and make for fruitful investments. Alfalfa particularly is grown to feed beef cattle, another bloated and mishandled appendage of the food industry. 

While some have hung the blame on individual “farmers” for leeching water with forever crops, many farms in the US are becoming amalgamated into large industrial operations worked by wage labor. The few small family farms left are under the thumb of these larger monopolies in terms of what they are able to produce and sell at the end of each season. Bill Gates’ massive investments in farmland (Gates owns approx. 270,000 acres!) is a testament to the growth of large monopoly agribusiness.  It is widely viewed as a safe bet for venture capitalists, as according to Mother Jones the price of farmland increased sixfold between 1940 and 2015. And with climate change shrinking the amount of fertile land, Wall Street is ready to cash out on its increasing scarcity.

Ordinary people are being put in a life or death situation. While wall street lines its pockets, people are forced to line up at the store and shell out for bottled water to drink. On top of that, electricity and water bills have the potential to skyrocket, forcing working people to yet again foot the bill for this crisis.

The Bureau of Reclamation, a government agency which oversees water resource management, has put forward two proposals, which both aim to ration the water supply. The first would be on a seniority basis, where areas accustomed to using it longer or of “higher priority” would get more usage. The second would cut down the percentage equally across all users.

Both options are no friend to working people, and fails to address the root of the problem: climate change and corporate greed. A seniority basis would in fact favor farms in California’s imperial valley, at the expense of more populous metropolitan areas like Tuscan and Phoenix in Arizona. An even ration would have the largest impact inversely on farmland, but this naturally would cut down on necessary crops coming from that region (lettuce, kale, carrots, etc.)
These proposals would make working people and small farmers pay the price for major corporations’ greed. Relying on public servants from either side of the aisle won’t solve the many crises brought on by this system. The major agricultural corporations should open their books to the public, to see if their water use is going to be sustainable or not. If exposed for misusage, they should be immediately placed under democratic public ownership to be retooled on the basis of human need. Water-intensive mega-corporations should be heavily taxed to pay for agricultural efficiency devices, which can be implemented across the region, especially for farmers who cannot afford to make the switch. We need an immediate transformation to 100% renewable energy, which would require taking major polluting companies into public ownership as well. Thermoelectric power plants are some of the most water-sucking energy sources: we need to transition to solar, wind, geothermal, etc. energy sources. To win these things, we need a mass organized movement along socialist lines that can challenge this system driven by profit.

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