Water & Power: A California Heist

 “Prohibition of water mining. It shall be unlawful within (municipality) for any corporation or government to dig water wells to a depth greater than the most shallow of the three closest lawfully-constructed water wells.”

Water Wells – Permitting – Critical Water Basins-Summary

SB 252 will require new well permit applicants in critically overdrafted basins to provide basic information about their proposed well, and inform their neighbors about their intent to build a new well. It will require cities and counties in critically overdrafted basins to make new well permit applications public prior to approval. It provides technical assistance to cities and counties to help implement this act.


According to the California Department of Water Resources, 21 groundwater basins throughout the state are deemed “critically overdrafted,” causing wells to dry up, land to subside and damage infrastructure, saltwater to intrude from the sea, and jeopardizing the availability of groundwater for future generations.

The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was a critical step toward achieving groundwater sustainability. However, it will not be fully implemented for several years, allowing groundwater overdraft to continue, negatively impacting water supplies for existing pumpers.

Greater transparency is needed to provide existing pumpers and landowners in critically overdrafted basins with important information about the use of shared groundwater resources, specifically regarding applications for new well permits.

In 2014, California adopted landmark legislation, the Sustainable Groundwater

Management Act (Part 2.74 (commencing with Section 10720) of Division 6 of the Water Code), to sustainably manage groundwater resources.

Protects groundwater pumpers and landowners most at risk from increased groundwater overdraft by increasing transparency about proposed new wells in critically overdrafted basins.

Informs existing pumpers and landowners in critically overdrafted basins by requiring new well permit applicants to notify their neighbors of their intent and provide basic information about the proposed well, and by requiring cities and counties to make the details of new well permit applications publicly available, prior to approval. Exempts small domestic wells, replacement wells, and cities or counties with ordinances that protect existing pumpers from increased overdraft.

Supported by:

Clean Water Action

Environmental Justice Coalition for Water

Sierra Club California

Planning and Conservation League

Leadership Council for Justice & Accountability

CA. League of Conservation Voters

The Nature Conservancy

North County Watch

CA. Coastal Protection Network

Condor’s Hope

Community Water Center

North Coast Stream Flow Coalition

Karuk Tribe

Union of Concerned Scientists


Environmental Defense Fund


Agricultural Council of California

Almond Alliance of California

Association of California Egg Farmers

California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers

California Association of Wheat Growers

California Bean Shippers Association

California Business Properties Association

California Chamber of Commerce

California Citrus Mutual

California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association, Inc.

California Dairies, Inc.

California Farm Bureau Federation

California Fresh Fruit Association

California Grain and Feed

California League of Food Processors

California Pear Growers Association

California Seed Association

California Strawberry Commission

California Tomato Growers Association

California Warehouse Association

Far West Equipment Dealers Association

Milk Producers Council

Nisei Farmers League

Western Agricultural Processors Association

Western Growers Association

Western Plant Health Association

Wine Institute


Kings River Conservation District

In Paso Robles, financiers are buying up vineyards for the unfettered water rights and selling it back to residents. Paso Robles had a vineyard explosion that led to dry wells and drilling over 1,200 feet into ancient aquifers. This is a must see film. A few more drought years and this could be common place to mine the resources that belong to everyone for corporate profit. Vineyards were not watered until 1970. Water means profits and production since watering began has almost doubled tonnage per acre.   


Director Marina Zenovich refers to her new film as “Chinatown,” the documentary. The filmmaker’s latest work “Water & Power: A California Heist” shines the spotlight on modern-day water barons in California’s San Joaquin Valley and the backroom deals that have helped pad their pockets.

Stewart and Lynda Resnick, owners of the Wonderful Company, feature prominently, as does the Kern County Water Bank they partially control, and the Monterey Amendments, which helped make that possible.

In the film, lush orchards are juxtaposed with local residents whose taps have run dry, as the film explores the impacts of California’s drought and the valley’s groundwater crisis. It also zeros in on business interests looking for lucrative groundwater in other parts of the state.

“Water & Power,” produced by Academy Award-winner Alex Gibney, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January and has begun airing on the National Geographic Channel in 171 countries.

Journalists at Water Deeply recently spoke with Zenovich, who is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, and Adam Keats, an attorney with the Center for Food Safety, who is featured in the film.

Read the Interview >>

Marina Zenovich is the director of “Water & Power: A California Heist,” 
a new film airing on the National Geographic Channel. Jeff Vespa/WireImage

A still from the film shows a pipeline allegedly owned by Stewart Resnick 
bringing water from Dudley Ridge to Lost Hills. National Geographic/Ted Gesing