Westlands Water District Responds to Disappointing Central Valley Project Water Allocation Update

Courtesy of Westlands Water District 

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced an update to water allocations for Central Valley Project (CVP) water users. The revised allocation for South of Delta agricultural contractors, including Westlands Water District (District), was updated with an increase of 5 percent from 35 to 40 percent of the total water contract –another incredibly disappointingly low allocation for District water users.  

 With the state’s reservoirs and snowpack at above-average levels and much of the state out of drought conditions, this meager increase in allocation continues to present unnecessary and unjustified hardships for the hard-working people of our District,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager, Westlands Water District. “Water from the Central Valley Project is the lifeblood of our farms and communities that rely on the crops they grow. If we can’t expect transparency in the process and a robust water allocation reflective of the hydrology during years when our reservoirs are full, then what can we expect for the future of our region?”  

 Since the initial allocation of 15 percent at the end of February, Westlands has noted several conditions that are incongruent with a water supply allocation lower than 50 percent. For instance, in comparison of conditions this year to 2018 where we had a 50 percent allocation, we are now seeing substantially more Delta outflow, better snowpack, and generally equivalent storage in upstream reservoirs. 

 To the best of our understanding, the allocation is being held below 50 percent for two reasons: uncertainty in hydrology and corresponding conservatism in water management; and anticipated operational constraints for the protection of fisheries in the Delta.  We look forward to working with Reclamation, consistent with requests made earlier this spring by congressional leaders, to appropriately balance risks to water supply. With regard to restrictions caused by fisheries concerns, Westlands continues to seek clarification and documentation for these decisions. At present, and based on available information, we believe the decisions will not result in a measurable effect on the populations of the species, despite their significant cost to water supply. We feel this is a missed opportunity to celebrate what appears to be a healthy population of fisheries and does not warrant the high cost or alarmist actions. 

 Perhaps most concerning to Westlands is that this current experience raises concerns for how the regulatory agencies will approach the promised improvements to transparency, science-based decisions, and adaptive management under the pending Biological Opinions and Voluntary Agreements. Westlands remains vigilant in the effort to improve collaborative water supply decision-making and the transparency and accountability for those decisions.  

 We remain hopeful that Reclamation will increase our water allocation so that the District can continue to meet California’s – and the nation’s – food supply and food security needs. 

2024-04-29T09:37:21-07:00April 29th, 2024|

Westlands Water District Achieves Ambitious Groundwater Recharge Goal

Courtesy of the Westlands Water District

Westlands Water District (District) has met its ambitious goal of recharging 200,000 acre feet of groundwater and is prepared to capture more.  With water still available for recharge, predictions of a wet “El Nino” for California, and strong enthusiasm from District farmers to prioritize groundwater recharge, Westlands has set a new target of recharging 275,000 af of groundwater by the end of this water year on February 29, 2024.

“This outstanding achievement demonstrates the District’s dedication to ensuring a long-term water future in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley’s prime farmland,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager, Westlands Water District. “This year farmers and the District went from drought to abundance of water supply and quickly pivoted to capture as much water as possible. With over 434 projects approved and a handful more coming online in the next few weeks, the District is in a great position to take advantage or another wet year.”

With increased surface water supply from this past wet winter, Westlands set a goal of recharging 200,000 af of groundwater back into District aquifers. Due to the strong commitment from landowners to implement climate-resilient farming practices and build a sustainable water future, Westlands achieved this ambitious goal early and set a new target of recharging 275,000 af of groundwater by February 29, 2024. Westlands recognizes and appreciates the efforts of dozens of family farms that contributed to achieving our goal and the additional farms coming online soon.

“Farmers in Westlands cautiously recognize that the next drought is only a matter of time and the District’s robust recharge projects will provide a lifeline to hundreds of family-owned farms during periods of prolonged drought,” said Jeff Fortune, Board President. “Updating our target after hitting our goal demonstrates that our farmers’ commitment to sustainability extends beyond rhetoric. We are ‘all-in’ for building a more sustainable water future for the San Joaquin Valley.”

In addition to investing in District projects, since 2019 Westlands has been working with District landowners to establish and invest in on-farm recharge projects, with the goal of using abundant water supply (when available) to improve groundwater levels in the lower and upper aquifers. To date, over 434 recharge projects have been processed and over 285 projects recharged thus far.

With predictions signaling the potential for another wet winter, the District will continue to prioritize groundwater recharge efforts but has also adjusted schedules for select infrastructure projects to ensure efficient water delivery to landowners. While mother nature is unpredictable, the District is doing what it can to be ready for another wet winter.

2023-11-21T15:07:36-08:00November 21st, 2023|

Westlands Water District Shows Groundwater Recharge Success

By Elizabeth Jonasson

Today, Westlands Water District (District) released new data on the District’s groundwater recharge efforts. Since 2019, the District has been working with District landowners to establish on-farm recharge projects, with the goal of taking advantage of abundant water supply (when available) to improve groundwater levels in the lower and upper aquifers.


Sustainability is at the core of the District’s comprehensive water delivery system and groundwater recharge is a key strategy to both store and preserve water for future dry years or droughts and improve groundwater conditions in the subbasin. The District is committed to ensuring a sustainable water future by investing in recharge projects and encouraging landowners to explore and implement creative approaches that maximize water use efficiency and storage while improving climate resilience.


“We recognize the next drought is not if but when and it is critical we use extra water to prepare for future years when water may be sparse,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager, Westlands Water District. “The District’s groundwater recharge efforts will help ensure we meet our Groundwater Sustainability Plan objectives while allowing our farmers the opportunity to save water and plan next year’s crop.”


The District is currently offering three groundwater recharge programs to help landowners refill and replenish the aquifers in the District. Project types include percolation basins, flood irrigation, sublateral recharge, and dry well injection. The District is seeing strong enthusiasm and interest from landowners as new applications continue to be submitted.

With increased surface water supply this year, the District has been able to take advantage of the opportunity to prepare for the future. In May 2023 alone, recharge efforts resulted in 24,000 acre-feet (af) being stored. Water year to date, (March 1st through June 20th) the District has recharged approximately 60,000 af. The District is aiming to get to over 200,000 af of total recharge by the end of this water year (February 29,2024).

Additional recharge projects will be online in the coming months as the District has processed 273 applications for 61 Aquifer Storage and Recovery, 131 flood Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) projects, 77 percolation basins and 4 sublateral projects.

District recharge projects and in-lieu recharge (also known as foregone pumping) have had a positive impact on groundwater levels. In May 2023, groundwater elevation levels in the Lower Aquifer registered at –54 mean sea level, which is an increase of 40 feet compared to average groundwater elevation in the fall of 2022. Though these results have been encouraging, there is more work that needs to be done for a water-secure California.

“Strengthening water security in California isn’t something that can be done by just one water district, one water agency, or even one region,” Febbo added. “This is a statewide problem where we need to prioritize collaboration and develop multifaceted solutions to address California’s water crisis. That’s why we are committed to exploring and implementing creative approaches to maximize water use efficiency and storage and improve climate resilience.”

To learn more about the District’s recharge efforts see our groundwater recharge factsheet.

2023-06-20T15:31:10-07:00June 20th, 2023|

Westlands Water District & Partners Awarded Grant from California Department of Conservation for Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program

By Elizabeth Jonasson

Today, the California Department of Conservation (Department of Conservation) announced that Westlands Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency (Westlands GSA) was awarded a grant through the Multibenefit Land Repurposing Program (MLRP). The Westlands GSA serves as a Groundwater Sustainability Agency for the Westside Subbasin (Subbasin), a critically over-drafted basin in Fresno and Kings Counties. As part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act’s goals to mitigate and improve groundwater overdraft, the MLRP program aims to repurpose agricultural land to reduce reliance on groundwater while ensuring the voices and needs of marginalized communities are included in the process.


Recognizing the importance of finding ways to repurpose agricultural land that maximizes community benefits and minimizes the impacts of a reduction in economic activity, Westlands GSA partnered with Sequoia Riverlands Trust, Linguistica Interpreting and Translation, CivicWell, the Leap Institute, and Vista Consulting. These organizations are well-versed and experienced in community empowerment, job training, outreach and education, habitat restoration, and project organization for this effort and will help to support the program’s goals of achieving equitable groundwater sustainability.


“Choosing to partner with local Community Benefit Organizations and agencies who have directly served the community throughout the years speaks volumes about the intent to prioritize meaningful community participation and input.” Reyna Rodriguez, Owner, Linguistica Interpreting and Translation 


Alongside these trusted community partners, over the next 3.5 years, Westlands GSA will bring together broad community voices to develop and commence implementation of a multi-benefit land repurposing plan while simultaneously mitigating the effects of agricultural job loss through job training.


“Investing in priority populations on the west side of the Valley is critical in the advancement of climate resiliency and equity. The opportunity to train and certify local farmworkers, under-employed and unemployed residents will create jobs, save homeowners money, reduce greenhouse gasses, sequester carbon, and empower the local economy,” said Mayor Rey Leon, City of Huron, and Chief Executive Officer, The Leap Institute.  

The program will assist the Westlands GSA to identify and put into practice long-term opportunities to repurpose agricultural lands, cut groundwater use, reduce subsidence, improve groundwater supply, avoid undesirable results as defined by the Westside Groundwater Sustainability Plan, and provide benefits to disadvantaged communities.

“Westlands has a long history of repurposing land through our solar developments to ambitious groundwater recharge programs and this grant gives us the opportunity to build upon those efforts and develop and implement a Subbasin-wide land repurposing program while helping improve the quality of life for those who live in the impacted communities,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager, Westlands Water District. “We look forward to rolling up our sleeves with our partners to develop a comprehensive resident-informed plan to improve communities, economic wellbeing, water supply, habitat, and climate benefits.”

2023-06-16T14:11:09-07:00June 16th, 2023|

Westlands Water District Encourages Growers to Apply for Phase 2 of LandFlex Grant Funding

By Elizabeth Jonasson

Today, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) grower application enrollment period for Phase 2 of the LandFlex Program (LandFlex) will officially reopen at 5 pm. Westlands Water District Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) Westside Subbasin is one of 4 GSAs eligible for this second phase of funding. Growers will have access to approximately $10 million in grant funding and be incentivized to limit agricultural groundwater use near domestic wells.

“As the San Joaquin Valley continues to battle the impacts of the recent prolonged drought, we are grateful to provide farmers in Westlands access to grant funding through the LandFlex program,” said Allison Febbo, General Manager, Westlands Water District. “The District will continue to prioritize identifying resources like the LandFlex program so that our farmers can transition their land in the face of an uncertain water future.”

Block grant funding through LandFlex will be made available to growers with a 3-year average Adjusted Gross Income of $2.5 million or less, for each enrolled acre up to 40 acres or 25% of their total acreage, whichever is greater. LandFlex funding must be used for the following actions:

  • Provide immediate drought relief by fallowing land for a 12-month period (note: recharge activities are allowed on fallowed land in lieu of cover crops)
  • Permanently retire any current and future groundwater overdraft on enrolled acreage
  • Land use transition of enrolled acreage (e.g., orchard or row crop removal and planting of cover crops)

To be considered for block grant funding through LandFlex, willing and eligible growers must apply through the Grower Application Portal at landflex.org/apply by the deadline:  June 28, 2023 at 5 pm.

A priority for scoring applications will be based on land proximity to domestic wells that have gone dry or are in jeopardy of going dry, within the Subsidence Prone Area or approved recharge projects. Overall process for growers submitting applications in Phase 2 and receiving grant awards:

  1. LandFlex Grower Portal opens June 14, 2023 at 5pm
  2. All grower applications will be submitted through landflex.org/apply
  3. DWR, Technical Assistance Providers and the GSAs will score applications and determine distribution of awards.

You can learn more about LandFlex by visiting:  https://water.ca.gov/landflex or https://landflex.org.

2023-06-15T08:09:46-07:00June 15th, 2023|

Westlands Water District Celebrates 100% Water Allocation from the Central Valley Project

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced an increase in water allocations for the Central Valley Project (CVP). Last month, Reclamation increased the CVP allocation to 80% for contractors like Westlands Water District (Westlands) following an initial allocation of 35% of the water entitled to under contract. Today’s announcement brings the total up to 100% for the first time since 2017.  


In response to the announcement, Jose Gutierrez, Westlands’ interim general manager, issued the following statement: 


“We are exceedingly grateful to Reclamation, and its dedicated and hard-working staff, for the increased water allocation. Following two years of 0% allocations, this announcement will provide much needed water to support the District’s communities, family-owned farms, and hard-working families in the San Joaquin Valley. This water supply will assist growers in Westlands with putting the land to work to grow the food that feeds the world.” 


Mr. Gutierrez noted further: 


“At the same time, we must recognize the need to continue preparing for the next drought and future dry years.  For that reason, Westlands  is investing in a sustainable water future for our farmers.  Westlands is exploring and implementing creative approaches to maximize water use efficiency, recharge and storage and improve climate resilience.”  


Seizing the opportunity that this year’s hydrology has presented, Westlands has supported its landowners’ efforts to use available water to recharge the Westside Subbasin.  To date, District landowners have the capability of recharging up to 3,300 acre feet of water per day. And, groundwater recharge is expected to increase over the coming weeks as both more projects become operational and water becomes available.  


This year demonstrates the need to continue the investment in California’s water infrastructure and to refine environmental regulations, so that California is able to capture, transport, and store as much water as possible during wet periods to avoid drastic cuts during dry periods.  As climate continues to change, we must remain steadfast in investing in a more predictable and reliable water supply system for our environment, residents, farms and communities. 

2023-04-24T09:58:15-07:00April 24th, 2023|

Westlands Water District Responds to Central Valley Project Initial Water Allocation

By Elizabeth Jonasson

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) announced the initial water allocation for Central Valley Project (CVP) water. Reclamation allocated Westlands Water District (Westlands) and similarly situation contractors 35% of the water the districts are entitled to under their contracts.

In response to the announcement, Jose Gutierrez, the District’s interim general manager, issued the following statement:

“We are grateful for a 35% allocation and thank the dedicated staff at Reclamation, who worked hard to allocate as much water as feasible to the water users who have survived on a 0% allocation for the past two years. The past two years of 0% resulted in over 223,000 acres, approximately 36% of the District’s farmland, being fallowed in Westlands. An adequate and reliable supply of surface water is critical to the viability of the communities and farms in the San Joaquin Valley and their ability to feed the world. We are hopeful that precipitation continues to fall and are appreciative of the initial allocation from Reclamation.”

This year’s initial allocation demonstrates the critical and urgent need to invest in water storage and conveyance infrastructure. California must do a better job capturing water during wet periods, like those we experienced at the end of December and beginning of January. Modernizing our decades old federal and state storage and conveyance systems and improving local and regional infrastructure are important steps. The District continues to pursue, support, and implement balanced solutions that protect and restore the water supplies needed by the families that live and work in and around the District. The District is committed to ensuring every drop of water available is put to good use, including for California’s precious ecosystems.

2023-02-23T08:41:59-08:00February 23rd, 2023|

Westlands Water District Names Jose Gutierrez as Interim General Manager

The Westlands Water District (District) Board of Directors named Jose Gutierrez as the District’s Interim General Manager starting January 1, 2023. Mr. Gutierrez has been with the District since 2012 and currently serves as the District’s Chief Operating Officer. Mr. Gutierrez is a registered civil engineer and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and Masters degree in civil/environmental engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.

“Gutierrez has the skillset and historical knowledge to help lead the District during this transition,” said Jeff Fortune, Board President, Westlands Water District.

“I’m honored the Board entrusted me to serve as Interim General Manager and will work diligently to ensure Westlands continues to deliver reliable water and high-quality service to our water users so they can continue to grow the crops that feed the nation and the world,” said Jose Gutierrez.

Mr. Gutierrez will share responsibility for managing the District activities with Jon Rubin, the District’s Assistant General Manager & General Counsel. Both Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Rubin will work closely with the Board.

As the Interim General Manager, Mr. Gutierrez will be responsible for the operations and administration of the District and will manage efforts intended to improve storage and conveyance of the District’s surface and groundwater supplies.

Mr. Rubin, in his capacity as the Assistant General Manager, will be responsible for the District’s policy efforts, external engagement, and strategic water initiatives for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. Mr. Rubin, in his capacity as General Counsel, will continue to be responsible for the District’s legal affairs. Shelley Cartwright, the District’s Deputy General Manager- External Affairs, will continue to engage in the District’s policy efforts and oversee the District’s Federal & State legislative affairs, public affairs, and outreach and education efforts.

The District will begin a formal search for a regular General Manager at the start of the new year.

2022-12-21T10:13:55-08:00December 21st, 2022|

New Board President and New Board Members

By Elizabeth Jonasson, Westlands Water District

Today, the Westlands Water District Board of Directors appointed Jeff Fortune as president of the District. Mr. Fortune succeeds Ryan Ferguson. Mr. Fortune is a third generation California farmer and second generation Westlands farmer. He is a “boots on the ground” farmer with more than four decades of farming experience. Mr. Fortune works alongside his father and two brothers at their family farm growing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios.

At the Special Board Meeting today, Mr. Fortune was joined by four new Board members who were elected to the Board in November: Ernie B. Costamagna, Justin Diener, Donald Ross Franson III, and Jeremy Hughes. Each new Board member will serve a four-year term.

Ernie Costamagna is a third generation family farmer in California. He began farming in Westland’s in the 1980’s. His farming operation is comprised of nuts, wine grapes, cherries, garlic, onions, cotton and processing tomatoes. He is a resident of Hanford CA with his wife and has 7 children.

Justin Diener continues to work in the same area his family began farming in the 1930s. Mr. Diener, with his family, grows processing tomatoes, garlic, almonds, and lemons and raises lambs. Mr. Diener is responsible for the financial management of his family’s farming operation. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a degree in Economics with Honors. Before returning to the farming operation, Mr. Diener spent more than a decade of his career working for JP Morgan Securities, Wells Fargo Bank, and Bank of the West. Mr. Diener lives in Five Points, where he was born and raised, with his wife and daughter.

Ross Franson’s family has farmed in Westlands since the District’s formation in 1952. Mr. Franson currently serves as VP of Strategy at his family business, Woolf Farming & Processing, which grows almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, and other row crops. His family business also operates almond and tomato processing facilities within the District. Over the years Mr. Franson has served on various agricultural-related Boards, including Woolf Farming & Processing, Harris Woolf California Almonds, Cal-West Rain, and Aliso Water District. Mr. Franson currently resides in Fresno with his wife and three children.

Jeremy Hughes, a fifth-generation farmer, has farmed in the District for over 25 years with his family. Since his father started the operation in the mid-1970s with a one-quarter section of land, the farm has steadily increased. Mr. Hughes started the company that bears his name in 1997, farming various row crops including processing tomatoes, almonds, and pistachios. Mr. Hughes lives in Clovis with his wife and two children.

2022-12-06T08:24:31-08:00December 6th, 2022|

New Report Finds Over 35,000 Local Jobs Rely on Westlands Water District Agricultural Production

Water Restrictions Have Wide Reaching, Negative Impacts on Farms, Local Communities, and the Nation

By Westlands Water District

A new analysis highlights the significant, positive economic impact that agricultural production within the Westlands Water District has on the State of California and the country as a whole. The Economic Impact of Westlands Water District (Study), conducted by Michael A. Shires, Ph.D., outlines the far-reaching consequences of inadequate and unreliable water supplies on economies and communities.

The Study analyzes the economic impacts of the agricultural activities occurring within Westlands Water District. The Study also investigates how challenges such as water supply restrictions, climate change, inflation, supply chain disruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic can seriously threaten the quantity and quality of food available to the people of this nation. Taken together, these challenges underscore the important role that California’s agricultural production plays in national security and why protecting America’s domestic food production is essential.

According to the Study, on an annual basis, agricultural production within Westlands Water District is responsible for generating over $4.7 billion in economic activity and supporting over 35,000 jobs across the regional economy. These jobs produce the wages, tax revenue, and consumer spending that drive economic activity throughout the state.

“The farms within Westlands Water District are significant suppliers of fresh produce and other agricultural products both to the nation and the world. Activities in Westlands directly and indirectly employ and support tens of thousands of households and creates billions of dollars of economic value,” said Dr. Shires. “While there are a range of complex, modern policy and economic crises that may influence the level of that production, there is no real domestic alternative for production of these critical agricultural products.”

The farms in Westlands and the associated share of the country’s food supply, are at risk. While farms in Westlands continue to produce billions in economic activity, support communities in the San Joaquin Valley, and employ thousands of farmworkers and growers, we recognize that this production – and the livelihoods of those behind it – is highly dependent on water availability,” said Tom Birmingham, General Manager of the Westlands Water District.

When farmers do not have adequate water supplies, they are forced to make difficult decisions. They fallow otherwise highly productive land, and, in some instances, abandon planted acres because they lack water to continue irrigating their fields. Those decisions have widespread impacts. The Study found a “striking” correlation between “poverty levels in [Fresno and Kings] counties…with the shortfalls in water deliveries from the [Central Valley Project] to the Westlands Water District.” Poverty rates in these two counties are directly related to the water supply available to farmers in the District – when the District receives little to no water, more people in those counties suffer from poverty, and when the District receives a higher water allocation, the counties’ economic stability improves.

Further, with no domestic alternative for the agricultural contributions of the region, the economic impacts and negative implications of an inadequate water supply extend well beyond the local community. “At a time where instability around the globe has had significant impacts on the entire continent’s access to core crops like wheat, corn, and sunflower oil – on top of rising inflation and fuel costs – protecting the Nation’s domestic agricultural production capacity is fundamental to the security of the United States,” said Tom Birmingham.

“The bottom line is that much of the food in your pantry, refrigerator, and on your dinner table continues to be available because farms in California continue to provide some 80 percent of the nation’s supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. If this domestic production is curtailed, it will make the nation dependent on foreign sources which are, in turn, much more subject to supply chain, transportation, and quality problems,” Dr. Shires said. “If water supplies continue to be uncertain and volatile, there will be irreparable harm to already disadvantaged communities in the region and the acreage available to continue growing this produce will be significantly constrained.”

To read the entire report, visit: wwd.ca.gov/news-and-reports/economic-impact/

2022-03-16T10:50:59-07:00March 16th, 2022|
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