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


Federal and State Officials Highlight “All-In” Response to Calif. Drought 

Source: Pamela Martineau, Association of California Water Agencies


Federal and state officials held a joint press conference TODAY to highlight the multi-agency collaboration – calling it an “all-in” endeavor – that is taking place to leverage resources to respond to California’s drought.


Officials with Bureau of Reclamation and the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) also announced an additional $14 million in federal funding that will be made available to water districts and growers to conserve water and improve water management. This funding is in addition to the $20 million announced yesterday by the USDA to provide for water efficiency improvements for growers and ranchers.


U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael L. Connor stressed during the press conference that California is facing a potentially worse drought than the one in 1976-77 because reservoir levels are currently lower and the state’s population much greater.


“We have a more significant drought with a lot more people to serve,” said Connor.


Connor said the coordination of federal response to California’s drought would take place through the National Drought Resilience Partnership.


“This is ground central for this partnership,” said Connor.


On Jan. 31, officials with the California Department of Water Resources announced that there would be no allocations from the State Water Project. Commissioner Connor predicted the allocations from the federal Central Valley Project would be low when announced later this month.


Department of Water Resources Director Mark Cowin said that collaboration across agencies – on the federal, state and local levels – would be the only way the state can effectively deal with a drought of this magnitude. He also said it is important that officials act now to prepare for even drier conditions later.


“Delay can exacerbate the impact of the drought, so it is important to act quickly,” said Cowin.


Cowin said the state is taking a “measured approach” in terms of calling for a 20% voluntary water cutback by consumers and is “looking to local agencies to make (the) call” about mandatory restrictions.


He added, however, that if dry conditions persist “we might take action at the state level” in terms of mandatory restrictions.


Cowin was joined Reclamation Commissioner Connor and administrators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Integrated Drought Information System and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in demonstrating the coordinated response to record-breaking drought conditions in California.


Federal officials also committed to accelerate water transfers and exchanges and provide operational flexibility as necessary to help stretch California’s water supplies. Reclamation also released its 2014 Central Valley Project Water Plan, which outlines specific actions to help water users better manage their supplies through drought.


On Jan. 31, Reclamation announced that, with the consent of all settlement parties, it will begin reducing San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s Restoration Flows one month earlier than called for in the settlement, thereby making available about 13,000 acre-feet to the Friant Division long-term contractors with first priority to meet human health and safety needs.


Connor noted that pumping operations at the federal Jones Pumping Plant, located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta near Tracy, have been restricted by the lack of water due to drought conditions and State water quality permit requirements. Connor said pumping has not been curtailed by Endangered Species Act requirements for protection of imperiled fish species.


Also on Feb. 5, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it has begun, with assistance from the Bureau of Reclamation, focused drought-related surveys for delta smelt at Jersey Point on the San Joaquin River. The monitoring program will provide the Service, and state and federal water managers, with near real-time information about the location of delta smelt if they move closer to water diversions in the southern Delta.


Delta smelt are currently not near the water projects and entrainment risks are low. If there is substantial rain that increases Delta flows and the turbidity of Delta waterways, delta smelt could move closer to the water project diversions.