You stand in your kitchen, turn on the sink’s tap, and nothing happens. You have no water in your home despite the fact that you live on the banks of the Colorado River, one of the most valuable natural entities in the U.S. It’s not that there’s no water to be had. It’s that an investment banker in New York City sold your water to someone in Los Angeles who was able to pay more money than you.
Think that’s fiction? Think again.
Water profiteers of Wall Street
Meet Water Asset Management, a New York investment firm located at 509 Madison Avenue between 52nd and 53rd Streets in midtown Manhattan. Founded by Matthew Diserio and Disque Deane, the company has purchased 2,500 acres of farmland in Colorado for $20 million over the last five years. The founders have no connection or love for Colorado. It’s just a financial transaction like any other except it’s certain to be highly lucrative due to climate change.
Mr. Diserio is quoted as saying water investment is “the biggest emerging market on earth” and “a trillion-dollar market opportunity.” He and his partners at Water Asset Management say their goal is to make water use more efficient. The truth: they intend to harness the water in the Colorado River and other areas like it, and sell it to the highest bidder — namely farmers and municipalities. Water Asset Management and other water profiteers like them are cashing in on climate change.
Climate change impacts water supply
The Colorado River is the source of survival for 40 million Americans and five million acres of farmland in seven states: Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona, Nevada, and California. With every one degree increase, the river flow drops five percent. That translates to a 20 percent reduction over the last 100 years. Lake Powell in Arizona and Lake Mead in Nevada are under similar threats and stress.
The situation in the West is so dire that the federal government pays land owners to leave their fields fallow and not use water. That’s a tragic loss for our food system. It’s an easy request and easy money for investment firms like Water Asset Management who have no interest in farming the land.
Solutions to water profiteering: renewable energy, drought-resilient crops, and legislation
Though this current situation is both dystopian and predatory, it isn’t hopeless. Decarbonizing the grid and speeding the transition to renewable energy will help tremendously by reducing the incredible amount of water needed to refine oil. Shifting away from thirsty agricultural crops that toward those that require far less water to thrive would also help. Additionally, regenerative agriculture could be part of the solution to lowering water consumption. Food & Water Watch Research Director Amanda Starbuck has publicly spoken about this issue of the privatization of water, the need to stop it, and solutions to this crisis.
Given water’s vital role in all of our lives, Representative Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced The Future of Water Act in March 2022. “Water is a basic human right that must be managed and protected as a public trust resource,” it says. “Water should be affordable, easily accessible, and guarded from markets prone to manipulation and speculation.” In April 2022, it was referred to the Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit by the House Committee on Agriculture. Further action is pending. If passed, it would outlaw Wall Street’s speculation on water precisely because life requires water.
The fight for water, and the life it supports, is in its nascent days. As climate change progresses, the fight will get more aggressive if we don’t safeguard water rights now. To learn more, take action, and get involved to protect our natural world, visit Food & Water Watch, The Nature Conservancy, and the U.S. EPA.