Senate Water Bill Hopeful

Senate Water Bill Introduction is a Glimmer of Hope for Water Agencies

FRESNO, CA – Last week’s introduction of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s legislation, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, is welcome news for the people of the State of California and the Central Valley enduring another devastatingly dry year. Once again, multiple Central Valley water agencies joined together to express their unified voice in support of an expeditious passage of this Senate water bill. This bill comes on the heels of the introduction and passage by the House of Representatives of H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015.

 “We are encouraged by Senator Feinstein’s actions with the introduction of this legislation. There is no time to lose as the damaging effects of the drought continue to wreak havoc on local communities, businesses, farms and farmworkers in the San Joaquin Valley and other regions of the State. Immediate solutions are needed, and the District looks forward to working with Members of both the House and Senate to find a reasonable solution that will benefit our great State.”

–Don Peracchi, Chairman of the Board, Westlands Water District

 

“The South Valley Water Association thanks Senator Feinstein for introducing the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 and encourages the balance of the Senate to make quick work in passing the bill immediately upon return from the August recess. This is a further important step to get legislation that will help those many farms and communities in California who are going without water. We look forward to the members of Congress resolving key differences between the California Emergency Drought Relief Act and H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015, and finding real water supply solutions. The members of the South Valley Water Association stand ready to assist in any way we can.”

–Dan Vink, Executive Director, South Valley Water Association

 

“The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority thanks Senator Feinstein for the introduction of the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015. We realize this is another important step to passing a bill out of the Senate later this year that provides a meaningful legislative solution to the long-standing water supply shortages that is crippling the state. We are optimistic that members of Congress and the Senate can resolve the key differences in this bill, and the previously passed House Bill H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. The Authority looks forward to working with our legislative leaders to pass legislation that benefits all of California.”

–Steve Chedester, Executive Director, San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority

 

“There is no more important issue facing the Valley than the drought. It is a statewide crisis with the most direct and severe impacts in the Valley. The Kern County Water Agency appreciates Senator Feinstein’s and Senator Boxer’s efforts to help reduce the drought’s terrible impacts by introducing a bill in the Senate that can improve water supplies for farms and cities. We are anxious for the House and Senate to start working on a compromise between Congressman Valadao’s bill and the bill in the Senate, and we encourage the Senate to take swift action on the Feinstein/Boxer bill so that process can begin.”

–Ted R. Page, Board President, Kern County Water Agency

 

“No area of the State, and perhaps the nation, has suffered more disproportionately the harmful stress of chronic water supply shortages. The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority is appreciative of the effort of Senators Feinstein and Boxer on the recently introduced California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015 bill in the Senate. This bill is not only important to the San Joaquin Valley, but it is also vital for the entire state of California. We encourage the Senate to act swiftly, and encourage both the House and Senate legislators to begin work immediately on a meaningful compromise bill to ensure that long-awaited and much-needed relief is realized.”

–Dan Nelson, Executive Director, San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority

 

 “Friant Water Authority welcomes the introduction of Senate Bill 1894, the California Emergency Drought Relief Act of 2015, and we thank Senator Feinstein and her staff for all their efforts in bringing this bill forward. The immediate task is to pass Senate legislation so that work can begin to craft a compromise with the House-passed legislation. Our farms and communities have suffered more under these water cutbacks than any other area in the nation. Our people are desperate for solutions that will provide real water for our area. This bill is a critically important step in the process of developing compromise legislation that can be signed into law by the President this year. As the bill advances, Friant looks forward to working with our representatives on both sides of the aisle to achieve drought legislation that will provide real relief for the 2016 water year and beyond.”

–Eric Borba, Chair, Friant Water Authority

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BREAKING NEWS—Federal Water Users Once Again Will Get Zero Water This Year

Statement of Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District, on Zero Water

FRESNO, CA – For the second year in a row, California farmers will be receiving ZERO water from the Central Valley Project. The announcement today from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that more than one million acres of highly productive farmland will once again receive a zero allocation of water this year should make one thing abundantly clear.

The federal government’s Central Valley Project is broken. Its failure threatens the continued coordination of local, state and federal water agencies in operating the modern water system on which all of California depends. And as a result, some of the most vital elements of the state’s economy are being allowed to wither and die.

It is easy to blame this failure on the drought. But that is only a little bit true. There is no question that dry conditions in 2014 and 2015 have contributed to the crisis. But the Central Valley Project was designed and built precisely for the purpose of alleviating the effects of far more serious droughts than what we are experiencing today.

USBR WaterFrom 1987 through 1992, for example, in the midst of another prolonged drought that makes the current dry conditions pale in comparison, Reclamation was able to deliver 100%, 100%, 100%, 50%, 25%, and 25% of its normal allocations in each of those years.

Indeed, when Reclamation designed the Central Valley Project, it calculated how much water the system could reliably deliver even during a repeat of the most extreme drought that California suffered, from 1928 to 1934. And Reclamation based its decision on how much water it could make available to farmers based on that calculation.

Contrast that with the failure we are facing today. In 2013, a mere two years after the torrential rains we all experienced in 2011, the Central Valley Project was only able to deliver 20% of its normal supplies to farmers south of the Delta. And in 2014, Reclamation was not only unable to deliver any water to farmers, it could not even meet the “core demands” of its contractual obligation to senior water right holders on the San Joaquin River and its statutory obligation to managed wetlands.

Now, in 2015, we are told that the water supply conditions will be even worse than in 2014.

Why is the Central Valley Project no longer capable of fulfilling the basic purposes for which it was built? Don’t blame the drought. There is no question that new federal rules and regulations restricting the flow of water have contributed greatly to the human suffering that will occur in this third year of nearly zero or grossly inadequate allocations. And what is particularly tragic is that these new rules and regulations, which are intended to benefit threatened fish species, are based on conjecture and unproven theories that have done nothing to protect fish populations. Instead, fish populations continue to decline.

Central Valley Project, USBR
Central Valley Project, USBR

The governor has a plan for addressing California’s water crisis, and the public’s support for the water bonds last year is helping to implement it. But the breakdown in the Central Valley Project is not a problem that can be solved in Sacramento by the long-term solutions proposed in the governor’s plan. Fortunately California’s leaders from both political parties in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have been working together for more than a year on legislation that would help to restore reliability to our water system in order to protect the economy and the environment.

In 1992, when Barbara Boxer first ran for the Senate, she challenged Californians to stand up for the issues they cared about. “Where are the voices?” she asked. “Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about [people’s] lives.”

Today is a very sad day for the people in California and all over the country who depend on food grown by farmers who receive water from the Central Valley Project. Today is a very sad day for the workers who will be without jobs because farmers have no water. And today is a very sad day for the environment, which will continue to decline because federal agencies trusted with protecting at-risk fish species are content to tie the hands of project operators whose mission is delivering water for human needs, while these same agencies do nothing to address the numerous factors that limit fish populations.

As she winds up her long career in public service, Senator Boxer’s questions are just as vital as ever. Where are the voices? Where’s the spine? Where’s the anger? This isn’t about some theory. This is about people’s lives.

# # #

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Westlands Water District Approves Emergency Water for Westside City of Huron

Edited by Laurie Greene, CalAgToday Reporter and Editor

During its monthly meeting yesterday, Westlands Water District Board of Directors unanimously approved making water available to the City of Huron, as the City struggles with a desperate situation of diminishing water resources in the face of the drought.

Westlands Water District Map

As the State of California experiences unprecedented water supply conditions, not only is the agricultural industry suffering, many rural communities are struggling to meet basic water needs. The City of Huron, in Fresno County, has experienced the same perilous situation, for its approximately 6,900 residents and additional temporary farm workers. With unemployment hovering just above 35%, Huron recently approached Westlands about acquiring water to enable it to meet the City’s water needs.

Westlands Water District Board President Don Peracchi stated, “We are very pleased to be able to assist one of our local, rural communities during this difficult situation. Every day we hear of another family or community succumbing to a dry well. Unfortunately, situations like these are becoming all too commonplace.”

The City of Huron welcomed the recent news ensuring they would receive water from the District. Mayor Sylvia Chavez said, “Our community continues to suffer with the effects of the drought. We take for granted that water will remain plentiful, but the drought has depleted our reserves. We are thankful that Westlands was willing to work with us during this difficult situation.”

Earlier this year, the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) initially denied the City of Huron’s request for assistance; at which point, the City turned to Westlands as an additional source. The issue was brought before Westlands’ board members who agreed to help the City look for viable solutions.

The drought has caused irreparable harm not only to agriculture but also to families, businesses and communities with effects that are far-reaching beyond this year. This decision will provide limited relief to a much greater problem.

Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the United States, is made up of more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. Westlands currently has a contract with USBR for its annual supply of water to properly irrigate the district, yet USBR determines the allocation percentage it will supply. For example, USBR’s allocation percentage to Westlands for 2013 was 20% and for 2014 was 0%.

 

Sources: Gayle Holman, Westlands Water District; Jack Castro, City of Huron, CA

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Westlands Water District Corrects LA Times Errors with Full Page Ad

LA Times Wrongly  Attacks Westlands and Refuses OP ED Correction

The Los Angeles Times recently published an intensely critical article about Westlands Water District, which recited many of the false, misleading, or outdated claims made by some of our critics over the years. The Times’ editors refused to print an Op-Ed that the District offered in response. And so the District has taken out a full-page advertisement in the Times TODAY to provide readers with a better understanding of the issues facing Westlands and how we are addressing them. A copy of the advertisement is attached.

I wanted to let you know immediately about this action.

Tom Birmingham

General Manager of Westlands Water District

Westlands’ LA Times Ad

A Little Straight Talk About Agriculture,Saving Water and Drainage

Statement from Don Peracchi, President of Westlands Water District

Westlands
Source: Westlands Water District (wwd.ca.gov)

As the largest public irrigation district in the United States, Westlands Water District draws a lot of attention as well as the criticism that sometimes comes with its successes. This year, one of its most persistent critics, George Miller, is retiring after 40 years in Congress, and to mark the occasion, the Times’ recently unpacked a trunkload of his oft-repeated complaints and concerns about the District.

Some parts of this catalog identify serious issues that were long ago resolved. Others involve legitimate problems which we are still trying to address. And, like many things involving California water, a few are pure, political invention.

The article’s fundamental charge is that Westlands is simply “in the wrong place.” One might make the same complaint about dredging natural marshes in California’s Delta to grow crops in the middle of a saline estuary. Or attack the folly of installing vast farms on the desert lands of the Coachella and Imperial valleys. Or stranger still, decry building a great city on the arid plain where Los Angeles now stands. The point is, these endeavors and dozens more helped to create the prosperity of California by linking our communities together with a modern water system.

The reality is that Westlands is in the ideal place. Indeed, the Central Valley of California occupies the only Mediterranean climate in North America. Weather conditions, rich soils, and the arrival of water in the mid-1960s, have transformed the area into the most productive farming region in America. The communities that have grown there as a result, the thousands of businesses and tens of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend upon agricultural productivity, are not “in the wrong place.” They are at home.

The most persistent criticism of Westlands’ role in this transformation has to do with the influence of “corporate agriculture.” That may remain a concern for some parts of California, but not in Westlands or any of the other farming region served by the federal Central Valley Project. When Westlands was created in 1952, major industrial interests, including Standard Oil of California and Southern Pacific Railroad, did indeed own large tracts of land within its water service area.

But that ended in 1982 with the passage of Congressman Miller’s Reclamation Reform Act. That act redefined the qualifications for receiving water from a federal reclamation project; as a result, large corporate entities sold out, the large tracts were broken up, and today in Westlands there are nearly 2,250 landowners and the average farm size is 710 acres. “Corporate agriculture” has lost its meaning. Any corporate structure for today’s family farmers in Westlands is likely to have a mom as its vice president and her child as its treasurer.

Water use remains a constant concern for our farmers. That’s why farmers in Westlands have invested more than $1 billion in water saving techniques and technology. Indeed, even Westlands’ harshest critics have acknowledged that the men and women who today farm in Westlands are among the most efficient users of irrigation water in the world. Westlands is a leader in water conservation, and agricultural experts from all over the world come to the District to learn how its farmers are able to accomplish so much with the limited, and often uncertain, water supplies they have to work with.

Our interest in water use efficiency has become even more important in the 22 years since Congressman Miller’s Central Valley Project Improvement Act, and a host of new regulatory restrictions redirected more than a third of the water that cities and farms used to receive from the federal project, dedicating it instead to serve a wide range of new environmental purposes. Today, on an annual basis, the federal project manages more than 1.5 million acre-feet of water for fishery flow, waterfowl habitat, to protect listed species, and other environmental uses.

In hopes of restoring reliability to the water system as a whole, Westlands is working with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and other public water agencies throughout the state to support Governor Brown‘s Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

Drainage was a major issue on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley for decades before Westlands’ creation. That is why when Congress authorized the construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, it mandated that the Bureau of Reclamation provide Westlands with both a water supply and a drainage system. Initially federal officials planned to dispose of the drain water in the Delta. But Congress stopped that project when the drain being built by Reclamation reached Kesterson, and it was Washington as well that decided to designate this new terminus for agricultural waste as a wildlife refuge.

The resulting biological catastrophe should have been predictable. In the years since, the drainage system in Westlands has been plugged, and not a drop of drain water has left Westlands after 1986. Instead, Westlands has helped to fund the development of new methods for recycling drain water. And it has taken nearly 100,000 acres of the most vulnerable farmland out of production. Some of those lands are being converted to solar power development, with the support of numerous environmental organizations.

The drainage problem, however, persists. Federal courts, including the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, have repeatedly ordered that federal officials fulfill their obligation to provide drainage. But even though Westlands farmers pay every year for drainage service, the government has done nothing to resolve the problem in Westlands. And the government is facing a mandatory injunction, which it estimates will cost more than $2.7 billion to satisfy.

To avoid that cost, the government approached Westlands to assume the responsibility to manage drainage water within its boundaries. In addition, Westlands would compensate those landowners who have been damaged by the government’s failure to act. As part of a settlement, which is not yet final, Westlands would receive some financial consideration, albeit significantly less than the cost of performing the obligations that Westlands would assume. But there is nothing secret about either the negotiations or the proposed settlement. In fact, federal officials and Westlands have briefed interested Members of Congress and non-governmental organizations on the proposal. And there is no process that is more public than the process that federal officials and Westlands will have to pursue to obtain the congressional authorization needed to implement the proposed settlement.

We remain hopeful that these ideas can still form the basis for a long-term resolution of the drainage debate. This would put an end to more than fifty years of litigation, relieve the federal taxpayers of a substantial obligation, and enable us to move forward with an environmentally sustainable approach to the problem.

Whether that happy outcome would also put an end to the criticism of Westlands, however, is not for us to say.

Don Peracchi was born in Fresno, California to second generation Northern Italian immigrants. His family has lived and worked in Central California over 100 years. He has been farming since 1982 alongside his wife, two sons and daughter in Westlands. He has been involved in career-related board positions including banking, insurance, agriculture and water. He currently is the Board
President of Westlands Water District.

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