Buying up the water

Ah yes, climate change as an opportunity to rake in the bucks with your Monopoly On Water.

WINTHROP, Okanogan County — Follow the water and you’ll find the money.

That’s how it often works in the dusty rural corners of Washington, where a Wall Street-backed firm is staking an ambitious venture on the state’s water.

Crown Columbia Water Resources since 2017 has targeted the water rights of farms on tributaries of the mighty Columbia River.

This March, the company sealed a $340,000 deal for Douglas County water.

The same day, it paid $1.69 million for a farming partnership’s water in Columbia County.

And so on. Buying up water rights – the way some movers and shakers did in the Owens Valley in California back in the day, in order to divert the water from the Owens River to Los Angeles.

Piece by piece, the company’s lawyer, Mark Peterson, is constructing a portfolio to span the state, building out a plan he hopes will untangle the arcane world of water rights, and thrust it into a 21st-century free market.

Meaning, make it sellable for the highest possible price.

Some critics fear business models like Crown’s could lead to speculation or consolidation.

“We’re potentially allowing a marketplace to develop here that could be pretty destructive in the future,” said Paul Jewell, a policy director for the Washington State Association of Counties. “With a growing population and growing need for water, we’re going to be beholden to private interests with a profit motive for something that’s supposed to be a public resource.”

What could possibly go wrong?

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