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Water and the mother’s milk of politics

Marc Reisner sounded the alarm on water policy in the West 28 years ago. Did anybody listen?
Marc Reisner sounded the alarm on water policy in the West 28 years ago. Did anybody listen?

As drought ravages California and other parts of the West, the political giving habits of the state’s private water merchants and brokers are coming under increasing scrutiny. One is La Jolla–based Pico Holdings on Ivanhoe Street, a publically traded firm that owns the Vidler Water Company. “We develop new sources of water primarily in the southwestern United States for municipal and industrial use,” says the company’s website, “either from existing supplies of water, such as water used for agricultural purposes, or from acquiring unappropriated (that is, previously unused) water.” It adds, “Typically, we identify and develop the source of water from a new water supply, or a change in the use of an existing water supply from agricultural to municipal and industrial.”

The company’s most famous employee was the late Marc Reisner, who wrote 1986’s Cadillac Desert, blasting conventional water use and management in the West. The author died in 2000, and Vidler has since branched into other endeavors, including water and solar power proposals in Nevada. It’s currently working on a plan to build a natural gas–fired power plant in Mesquite. Vidler has been making big campaign contributions to the state’s politicos, giving a total of $20,500 last year, including $4000 to the GOP Assembly caucus and $2000 to the Assembly Democratic caucus.

In New Mexico, an environmental outfit called Deep Well Protest has loudly opposed plans by a Vidler subsidiary called Aquifer Science to sink a controversial series of water wells on a Sandia basin ranch. Pico’s most famous boardmember is Kristina Leslie, who used to be chief financial officer at Dreamworks Animation, the company responsible for Shrek. Another is Julie Sullivan, executive vice president and provost at the University of San Diego.

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Marc Reisner sounded the alarm on water policy in the West 28 years ago. Did anybody listen?
Marc Reisner sounded the alarm on water policy in the West 28 years ago. Did anybody listen?

As drought ravages California and other parts of the West, the political giving habits of the state’s private water merchants and brokers are coming under increasing scrutiny. One is La Jolla–based Pico Holdings on Ivanhoe Street, a publically traded firm that owns the Vidler Water Company. “We develop new sources of water primarily in the southwestern United States for municipal and industrial use,” says the company’s website, “either from existing supplies of water, such as water used for agricultural purposes, or from acquiring unappropriated (that is, previously unused) water.” It adds, “Typically, we identify and develop the source of water from a new water supply, or a change in the use of an existing water supply from agricultural to municipal and industrial.”

The company’s most famous employee was the late Marc Reisner, who wrote 1986’s Cadillac Desert, blasting conventional water use and management in the West. The author died in 2000, and Vidler has since branched into other endeavors, including water and solar power proposals in Nevada. It’s currently working on a plan to build a natural gas–fired power plant in Mesquite. Vidler has been making big campaign contributions to the state’s politicos, giving a total of $20,500 last year, including $4000 to the GOP Assembly caucus and $2000 to the Assembly Democratic caucus.

In New Mexico, an environmental outfit called Deep Well Protest has loudly opposed plans by a Vidler subsidiary called Aquifer Science to sink a controversial series of water wells on a Sandia basin ranch. Pico’s most famous boardmember is Kristina Leslie, who used to be chief financial officer at Dreamworks Animation, the company responsible for Shrek. Another is Julie Sullivan, executive vice president and provost at the University of San Diego.

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Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown.

March 12, 2014

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