Harvard’s $39B Endowment Is Reportedly Buying Up California’s Vineyards—and Their Water Rights

December 10, 2018, 11:13 PM UTC

Harvard University’s endowment is reportedly buying up vineyards in California’s wine country, along with the water rights belonging to those properties.

Instead of making the land purchases in its own name, Harvard is using a wholly owned subsidiary—named Brodiaea after the scientific name for the cluster lily—to buy vineyards. Harvard created Brodiaea in 2012, and by 2015 the unit had already purchased 10,000 acres in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties for about $60 million, according to an earlier report by Reuters.

Earlier this year, the Harvard Crimson reported that Brodiaea had continued to buy up land in the area, especially vineyards with good access to ground water. Unlike many California vineyards, the ones owned by Harvard don’t welcome tourists to tastings but instead feature “no trespassing signs” on the properties, the Wall Street Journal said on Monday.

California’s central coast has, like much of the state’s farming region, suffered a long and serious drought since 2011. The drought has led many farms and vineyards to draw from ancient aquifers, making land rights to their underground water an increasingly precious resource. According to UC Berkeley’s California magazine, more than 100 water basins throughout the state have reached critical levels of overdraft.

While some local farmers say they aren’t worried about Harvard’s purchases of vineyards, others—as well as some local politicians—are expressing concern that the groundwater will be used to benefit landowners who are based far away.