A legal cloud has long shadowed the Resnicks’ water deal. The Kern County Water Bank was originally acquired in 1988 by the state to serve as an emergency water supply for the Los Angeles area—at a cost to taxpayers of $148 million in today’s dollars. In 2014, a judge ruled that the Department of Water Resources had turned the water bank over to the farmers without properly analyzing environmental impacts. A new environmental review is due next month, and a coalition of environmental groups and water agencies is suing to return the water bank to public ownership. Adam Keats, senior attorney at the Center for Food Safety, describes the transfer of the water bank to the Resnicks and other farmers as “an unconstitutional rip-off.”
And here’s a key fact to consider against this backdrop: The Resnicks aren’t just pumping to irrigate their fruit and nut trees—they’re also in the business of farming water itself. Their land came with decades-old contracts with the state and federal government that allow them to purchase water piped south by state canals. The Kern Water Bank gave them the ability to store this water and sell it back to the state at a premium in times of drought.