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Fruitful Legal Battles Over Water Supply

In Kern County, Calif., trendy fruits like pomegranate are at the center of a number of contentious lawsuits over water resource management.

An inherent dearth of surface water, coupled with constant demand to sustain the state's gargantuan agricultural economy, foster conflicts among groups with vested interests in California's limited water supply.

For decades, water banking was the answer to the region's water shortages. By no means perfect, it is essentially "a system in which water-rights holders - mostly in the rural West - store water in underground reservoirs either for their own future use or for leasing to fast-growing urban areas," explains Felicity Barringer of The New York Times.

However, as trendy fruits like pistachio and pomegranate entered the mainstream over the last decade, Central Valley farmers responded to the increased demand by switching exclusively to permanent crops that require even more water year-round and thus "taking away the option of letting fields lie fallow in dry years." This, in turn, throws off the precarious equilibrium of the region's water banks and lawsuits over water rights ensue.

Currently, there are three cases in court, one of which "challenges the 1990s deal that transferred the Kern Water Bank from the state to a group of water suppliers controlled by the Resnicks," who own POM Wonderful, a company that sells pomegranates and pomegranate-based products.

Full Story: Storing Water for a Dry Day Leads to Suits

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