Courts & Crime

California water bank sued as wells go dry

A story worthy of Hollywood will soon unfold in California courtrooms -- allegations of government corruption and corporate greed to rival the infamous Los Angeles water grab that inspired the film "Chinatown."

Call it "Chinatown II," a tale beginning 15 years ago -- when, according to lawsuits filed in the last three months, the state illegally turned over the publicly owned Kern Water Bank to an agency controlled by giant corporations in a backroom deal.

Defendants say the charges, like the movie, are mostly fiction. But environmentalists and others who are suing say innocent people have been hurt while big landowners reaped big profits.

Kern Water Bank owners stored water from Northern California rivers in a vast underground aquifer and made millions of dollars selling it back to the state and farmers during the recent drought, environmentalists say.

And by pumping water out of the aquifer, they dried up wells at neighboring homes, say plaintiffs, who include neighboring Kern County water districts. Residents are scrambling for loans to drill deeper wells. Some are losing homes.

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