WESTLANDS OR WASTELANDS? The Bush administration is about to fork over more than $100 million to a group of mega-wealthy landowners in California so they will not farm contaminated farmland. The pot will then be sweetened more by letting the landowners hold onto the highly valuable water rights associated with the land.
Federal Government Gives Taxpayer Money to Big Land Owners Despite Scandal
Here is a news update from Taxpayers for Common Sense. TCS is the best organization that monitors excessive government spending, corruption and corporate welfare.
Federal bureaucrats have been negotiating a deal behind closed doors to purchase more than 35,000 acres of agricultural land contaminated by toxic drainage. A similar deal fell through in the waning days of the Clinton administration.
The federal government buys, sells, and transfers millions of acres of land annually in an effort to "manage" our federal lands and natural resources more effectively. This current land deal sprouted from the Interior Department's attempt to settle a lawsuit that Westlands, the nation's largest irrigation district, filed against the federal government for failing to provide a drainage system for the land under question.
Despite the fact that drainage disposal is normally considered a local obligation, the courts did rule that the government must help provide drainage service for the land controlled by Westlands landowners. However, although the federal government is supposed to take a role in solving these drainage issues, taxpayers shouldn't have to pick up the full check.
While claiming to be a group of small family farmers, Westlands has been criticized for being dominated by a handful of rich 'paper farmers' who control huge swaths of land in the Central Valley, but actually live in San Francisco. The Westlands "farmers" have received boatloads of cash from the federal government by way of price supports for the cotton and other crops that they are growing in the desert with the use of federally subsidized water.
Some argue that this deal is an acknowledgement that the land should have never been irrigated in the first place because it was too toxic.
However, the backroom wheeling and dealing will also allow the welfare-wealthy landowners to retain the water rights for the land we, the taxpayers, are buying from them. Keeping in mind that water is more valuable than gold in the California desert, there is no question that the landowners will be able to profit by selling the water rights to thirsty local communities. Usually, when land is purchased, the seller gives up the water rights. So, why should taxpayers pay a premium price for this land when it will only line the deep pockets of wealthy irrigators and still allow them to sell the water to the highest bidder?
The recipients of this $100 million land deal should not be allowed to retain the water rights for these retired lands. Federal taxpayers provided massive subsidies to help build the region's water infrastructure and have yet to receive a return on their investment. In order for this deal to go through, Westlands needs at least to give up their claim to water on land that they don't own and stop holding the federal government responsible for their own drainage problems.
For more information, contact Keith Ashdown at (202)-546-8500 ext. 110
or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
TCS is at www.taxpayer.net
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