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Groundwater Gold Rush

Bloomberg [no paywall]: “Banks, pension funds and insurers have been turning California’s scarce water into enormous profits, leaving people with less to drink…Some of the world’s largest investment banks, pension funds and insurers, including Manulife Financial Corp.’s John Hancock unit, TIAA and UBS, have been depleting California’s groundwater to grow high-value nuts, leaving less drinking water for the surrounding communities, according to a Bloomberg Green investigation. Wall Street has come to Woodville, wringing it dry. Since 2010, six major investors have quadrupled their farmland under management in California, to almost 120,000 acres in all, equivalent to a third of all the cropland in Connecticut. Despite epochal drought, these companies have fueled the growth of permanent crops, disregarding some of the most basic principles of sustainable investing. Much has been made of the water use of local farmers and industrial-scale agribusinesses such as California’s biggest nut farmer, Wonderful Co., but the growing role of institutional investors in the state’s water crisis has gone largely unnoticed. Over the past decade, the financier-farmers have poured millions of dollars into digging deep wells, expensive capital projects that many communities couldn’t dream of matching on their own. In a presentation to investors obtained by Bloomberg Green, one company said it will eventually have to dial back its groundwater pumping yet can still reap handsome returns before that day comes…”

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