Soaking Uncle Sam

Why Westlands Water District's New Contract is All Wet

September 14, 2005

Soaking Uncle Sam: Conclusion

As proposed, Westlands' new contract is a deal California simply can't afford:

  • No planner would think of giving a green light to a development the size of San Diego, San Francisco, Riverside and San Bernardino combined if the source of its water supply was unclear. But that's what the Bureau of Reclamation is doing with Westlands' new contract. The contract must reconcile the amount of water that can be provided with the amount being promised.
  • By locking in more than 1 million acre-feet a year for up to 50 years, the contract makes it impossible for the state to plan wisely and fairly for the future water needs of California, where the next drought is always just a matter of time.
  • California's fish and wildlife need more water. The San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem is on the verge of collapse. Last fall the populations of many species considered to be indicators of ecosystem health — including the endangered Delta smelt, young striped bass, threadfin shad, and copepods — fell to some of the lowest levels ever recorded. [23] Forty miles of the San Joaquin River, once home to a thriving salmon fishery, have been completely dry for the last 50 years since the construction of the Friant Dam. [24] Today, more than half of Trinity River flows are diverted for agricultural use and fish populations have been reduced by 60 to 80 percent. [25] These are three major sources of Westlands' irrigation water.
  • While Westlands is awash in hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water, some small, low-income, primarily Latino communities in the Valley lack clean and affordable drinking water. Alpaugh, in Tulare County, is dependent on trucked-in donations of water. In nearby Lindsay, residents must sign affidavits that they will use bottled water for drinking and cooking, because their tap water is contaminated with nitrates from fertilizers and runoff from pesticides. Raisin City, in rural Fresno County, lacks its own water and sewage system, and tests of residents' wells found every one contaminated with levels of pesticides, bacteria, nitrates and radioactive material above state health standards. [26]

As Westlands and the Bureau of Reclamation are quick to point out, the CVP is the lifeblood of San Joaquin Valley agriculture, which is the region's economic mainstay. But no one is saying that Westlands and other CVP farmers should stop receiving water, or that it shouldn't be subsidized — only that they pay more of their fair share, pay back their debt to the taxpayers, and use water wisely and sparingly, leaving enough to support fish, recreation and other needs. To ensure that California's future water needs are met wisely and fairly, members of California's congressional delegation, Gov. Schwarzenegger and other state and local officials must demand that the Westlands contract be reopened for further negotiation.