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Gather Ye Handouts While Ye May

One of the things we can expect to see more of in the final months of the Bush administration is a major push by industry groups to get sweetheart deals and favorable policy changes railroaded through before the next president is sworn in. The creatively named Froude Reynolds highlights one such attempt, by the nefarious Westlands Water District in California's San Joaquin Valley. Westlands, you may recall, is a collection of agribusiness interests to whom the Bush administration, for some reason, is determined to give away the rights to an enormous amount of California's freshwater for the next 60 years. The chances are extremely low that much of the water would actually be used for farming--more likely, Westlands would sell it to Southern California cities at a hefty profit, so it's quite literally a massive, direct wealth transfer from the public to agribusiness. It's such a transparently corrupt, awful deal for the public that even Bush's EPA doesn't like it.

Thankfully, environmentalists and Democrats in Congress have managed to block the agreement so far, and are attempting to run out the clock on it until January. So Westlands is starting to play hardball, threatening to torpedo an unrelated, carefully constructed agreement to restore the San Joaquin River unless it gets its way on the water giveaway. Reynolds offers a sharp assessment of the situation:

Westlands is willing to bully other local districts and threaten an unrelated river restoration project (one that ended years of litigation, was a historic settlement for districts in the San Joaquin Valley, and may be a last hope for California salmon) to get their huge water giveaway. And they should be. The stakes are incredibly high for them, billions of dollars from people in Los Angeles, vast wealth for sixty more years. Time is running out, too. If this isn’t done when Bush leaves office, there’s no way a Democratic administration would favor a deal this one-sided. Westlands should play rough right now. But that doesn’t mean we should let them win.

--Josh Patashnik