California produces a number of water-thirsty crops. Agriculture, which contributes to 2% of California’s economic activity, uses 80% of its water. Focusing on how water allocation was determined in the 1990s in what is now referred to as the “Monterrey Agreement,” Water and Power emphasizes the potential money to be made from the commoditization of water in central California.
In Kern County, which is home to numerous large industrial farms but no consistent water supply (aside from groundwater), 5 years of drought have precipitated conflicts between large-scale agribusiness and smaller farms and residents. Concluding that water is money, to be traded like any other commodity, the film maintains that water transitioned from a public resource to one controlled by private industries as a result of the Monterrey Agreement. As the cost of tapping limited groundwater supplies rises, the majority of residents in affected regions will no longer be able to obtain or afford water. Similar issues are poised to play out on a global scale.
Toward the end of the film, we see calls for, and recently proposed, legislation that should help mitigate water conflict in times of drought and that may eventually return water rights to the public (albeit on a very long time scale), ending on a somewhat hopeful note.