Peracchi Steps Down as President of Westlands

Dan Errotabere is Now President of the District

On December 17, 2019, Don Peracchi announced that he would step down as President of Westlands Water District’s Board, effective December 31, 2019. Following his announcement, the District’s Board of Directors voted unanimously to elect Director Daniel Errotabere as President of the District.

Mr. Peracchi stated, “It has been an honor to serve as Westlands’ President, and I am proud of the District’s accomplishments over the last several years. These include the District’s role in passage of the WIIN Act, its role in negotiating revisions to the Coordinated Operations Agreement, conversion of the District’s water service contract to a repayment contract, and development of the groundwater sustainability plan. The District has a well-functioning Board supported by competent, dedicated staff. I believe it’s time to provide another Director with the opportunity to serve as President of the District.”

Tom Birmingham, the District’s general manager, stated, “On behalf of the staff, I want to express our appreciation to Mr. Peracchi. Few people understand the time commitment required to serve as Westlands’ President; it is a full-time job. Mr. Peracchi led the District through difficult times, when drought and regulatory restrictions severely reduced water supply, but because of his leadership on the Board, the District is in a good position.”

Mr. Errotabere stated, “Don Peracchi leaves big shoes to fill. He did an incredible job of leading the District through difficult times. I am gratified that the Board has confidence in my ability to continue the course set by Don and the Board.”

Mr. Peracchi has served as a Director of Westlands since 2008 and was elected President in 2011. He will remain on the Board of Directors. Mr. Errotabere, who previously served as Westlands’ President from 2002 through 2005, will begin his second term as President of Westlands on January 1, 2020.

Westlands is a public water district governed by a nine-member Board of Directors. Elections for the Board are held every two years and Directors are elected to four-year terms in office. The Board elects the District President and appoints other officers.

Westlands Water District is the largest agricultural water district in the United States, made up of more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. Under federal contracts, Westlands provides water to 700 family-owned farms that average 653 acres in size.

 

New Proposed Westlands Water Contracts to Users

Statement from Tom Birmingham, General Manager of Westlands Water District

A response to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s proposed conversion of the Westlands Water District water service contract to a repayment contract

The American West is an arid region. When President Obama signed the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act in 2016, it was with the express intent of improving the nation’s water infrastructure, especially in the western United States. As part of this improvement, Section 4011 (a)(1) of Subtitle J of the Act provides that the Secretary of the Interior shall convert water service contracts to repayment contracts at the request of any existing water service contractor.
Section 4011 was included in the WIIN Act to create a source of money that the Bureau of Reclamation could use to construct water storage projects around the west. It was intended by the Act’s co-author, Senator Dianne Feinstein, to help California “prepare for [that] future while providing us with access to more water now.” When President Obama signed the bill into law, he stated that, “This important partnership has helped us achieve a careful balance based on existing state and federal law.”
Converting “temporary” water service contracts to “permanent” repayment contracts is not uncommon. In fact, an underlying principle of federal Reclamation law  that water users who have repaid the construction costs of a project would have a permanent right to the use of water developed by a project  has been reaffirmed by Congress multiple times since it was first laid out in the Reclamation Act of 1902.
In the Central Valley Project, the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act directed the Secretary of the Interior to convert water service contracts in the Friant Division to repayment contracts to generate revenue for the San Joaquin River restoration program, and those water service contracts were in fact converted to repayment contracts. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, as of October 2019 more than 75 agencies that had “temporary” water service contracts to receive Central Valley Project water, including the State of California Department of Fish and Wildlife, have exercised the option provided by the WIIN Act to convert their contracts to “permanent” repayment contracts. The contract terms proposed in the repayment contracts for Westlands and other Central Valley Project contractors under the WIIN Act are nearly identical to those in the Friant Division repayment contracts.
Further, as President Obama also noted, the provisions of Subtitle J of the WIIN Act were intended to help meet California’s long-term water needs, helping to “assure that California is more resilient in the face of growing water demands and drought-based uncertainty.” In the case of Westlands’ contract conversion, like all contract conversions done before or after, it offers a win-win for all parties.
The Westlands contract conversion will accelerate payment of approximately $320 million to the federal government years before payment is due. This money, pursuant to the WIIN Act, will be placed in the Reclamation Water Storage Account to be used for the construction of water storage and supply projects that can benefit all Central Valley Project purposes.

Westlands Water District Helps Mendota Boys/Girls Club Stay Open

Westlands Board of Directors Contribute $36,000 To keep Club Open

Edited By Patrick Cavanaugh

Recently, Westlands Water District Board of Directors voted unanimously to contribute $36,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of Mendota. In a letter to Westlands’ Board, Kathryn Weakland of the Boys & Girls Club explained that without immediate funding the Club was at risk of closing,

“The shortfall is due to: increased operating costs, minimum wage increases and lack of sustainable funding sources.” Robert Silva, the Mayor of the City of Mendota, addressed the Board during the meeting expressing the importance of the Boys & Girls Club providing services to children in the City. Westlands Water District Board President Don Peracchi thanked Mayor Silva, City Manager Cristian Gonzales and the Boys & Girls Club of Mendota for allowing Westlands the opportunity to support the community.

Robert Silva, mayor of Mendota
Robert Silva, Mendota Mayor

The Boy & Girls Club of Mendota serves over 300 children, 95 percent of whom live in public housing near the club. All the children served have families residing well below poverty level, with an average income of $16,000 a year. Approximately 85 percent of the children served by the club have a parent or parents who work for farmers in Westlands. The Club provides a safe and welcoming space for children to learn, grow, play and are provided with nutritious meals daily.

Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, expressed the need to support the children who attend the Boys & Girls Club of Mendota, and he noted this was one means of mitigating socioeconomic impacts resulting from the District having retired approximately 40,000 acres of land near the City of Mendota. The Boys & Girls Club of Mendota is continuing to work diligently to establish relationships with potential donors and create a fundraiser, intended to ensure annual contributions keeping the Club operational.

“We are so thankful to Westlands Water District Board of Directors for this generous gift to keep the doors of the Mendota Club open to children who rely on the services, positive environment and diversified educational programs provided by the Club every day,” said BGCFC Kathryn Weakland, VP of Development. “We are still working to secure permanent funding, but this will help us seek the right opportunities in the meantime.”

Westlands Water District Announces Scholarship Winners

Westlands Water District Announces Recipients of the Six West Side Scholarships

News Release

Westlands Water District awarded scholarships to six high school seniors in recognition of the students’ exceptional academic achievement. Each recipient, all of whom are from west side communities, will receive $1,000 towards their community college or university expenses. Applicants were judged on their academic performance, school activities, and community leadership, and each applicant submitted an essay on an agricultural-related topic.

The District congratulates the following 2019 scholarships winners:

Joe Cardiel III, a senior at Firebaugh High School. Cardiel plans to attend Fresno State, where he will major in Agriculture Education, with plans to pursue a career as an agricultural educator.

Cardiel is a varsity basketball and varsity baseball player and FFA chapter secretary. As a Firebaugh high school student, Cardiel was honored with the Eagle Baseball award, FFA State Degree, and FFA Outstanding senior.

Marvin Cornejo, a senior at Mendota High School. Cornejo is an honors student who plans to attend Fresno State to pursue a degree in Chemistry. Following college, Cornejo aspires to pursue a career as a pharmacist.

Cornejo is a Mendota School Board student representative; a West Side Youth volunteer; an avid athlete involved in track &field, cross country wrestling and soccer; and an FFA Greenhand and Chapter degree holder.

Myriam Castro, a senior at Tranquility High School. Castro will graduate in the top five of her class. Castro plans to attend Fresno State, where she will major in Criminology.

During her time at Tranquility High School, Castro was involved in the Honor Guard and the California Student Opportunity and Access Program (Cal-SOAP) and obtained the ROP Criminal Justice certificate of completion and the State Seal of Biliteracy.

Peter Hawken, a senior at Lemoore High School. Hawken was honored as the Chemistry Student of the Year. Following graduation, Hawken will attend the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he will major in Environmental Science. With his degree, Hawken aims to pursue a career as an environmental and agricultural irrigation specialist.

Hawken is the Varsity Soccer team captain, both the soccer and tennis club president and is involved in Jesus Club and a California Scholarship Federation life member.

Jazmin A. Murillo, a senior at Coalinga High School. Murillo plans to attend West Hills College Coalinga, where she will major in Political Science and film. Following college, Murillo plans to pursue a career as a paralegal and as a film director.

Murillo is the editor-in-chief of the Coalinga High School Magazine, President of the After School Program Leadership Club and VIDA club, and was on the Principal’s Honor Roll from 2015 to 2019. Murillo has also been honored with the Bausch + Lomb Honorary Science Award, first place in the Chevron Robotics Challenge and as a National Hispanic Scholar.

Emma Andrade, a senior at Riverdale High School. Andrade is an honor roll student who plans to attend Fresno State, where she will major in Physics and plans to pursue a career as an experimental physicist.

Andrade plays varsity basketball and tennis and has been involved with Rural Route 4-H since 2010, continually holding leadership positions, such as Corresponding Secretary and Camp Director. Andrade has been honored with the Academic All-League Team and Letter, County Heartbeat Artistry Award and All-League First Team Varsity Tennis.

Westlands is honored to recognize and assist these outstanding students; as reiterated by Tom Birmingham, general manager of Westlands, “these scholarships represent a small gesture of thanks and support to the communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that make our region productive and vibrant. Our hope is that these students will continue to contribute to their communities and make them even better for future generations.”

65% Percent Water Allocation for Westlands with 163 Percent Snow Pack

Statement on Bureau of Reclamation’s April Water Allocation Announcement

News Release from Westlands Water District

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the water allocation for south-of-Delta Central Valley Project agricultural water service contractors is being increased to 65%. In light of current hydrologic and reservoir conditions, this minor increase is astonishing.

Thomas Birmingham, Westlands Water District’s general manager, stated: “This announcement begs the question, what has to happen before south-of-Delta farmers served by the Central Valley Project can get a full supply?”

With San Luis Reservoir full and flood flows coming, the 65 % allocation was more than disappointment.

Since October 1, the beginning of the current water year, California has been blessed with abundant precipitation; the 2018-19 water year is now classified as wet. As of April 8, the snow water content in the northern and central Sierra Nevada was 160% and 163% of the long-term average, respectively. Storage in every CVP reservoir used to supply south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors was more than 100% of average for that date. Indeed, these reservoirs were and remain in flood control operations.

Birmingham added, “I know that Reclamation staff understands the consequences of the decisions they make. Reclamation staff understands reduced allocations in a year like this needlessly increases overdraft in already overdrafted groundwater basins. Reclamation staff understands delayed allocation announcements make it nearly impossible for farmers to effectively plan their operations. If Reclamation’s leadership could, they would make a 100% allocation. But Reclamation’s hands are tied by restrictions imposed by biological opinions issued under the Endangered Species Act. These restrictions have crippled the CVP and have provided no demonstrative protection for listed fish species, all of which have continued to decline despite the draconian effect the biological opinions have had on water supply for people.”

Birmingham concluded, “Notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by the biological opinions, Westlands firmly believes that there is sufficient water to allocate to south-of-Delta agricultural water services contractors 100%. Today’s announcement by Reclamation is disappointing for every south-of Delta farmer served by the CVP, and we hope Reclamation will increase the allocation quickly to enable farmers to quit pumping groundwater.”

After 2019, no one will be able to argue that water supply reductions for south-of-Delta CVP agricultural water service contractors are a result of hydrologic conditions. This year demonstrates only too well the crippling consequences of ineffective and unchecked regulations. Because of restrictions imposed on operations of the CVP under the guise of protecting fish, the CVP cannot be operated to satisfy one of the primary purposes for which it was built, supplying water to farmers.

College Scholarships Available from Westlands Water District

Westlands Water District Announces 2019 Scholarship Application with May 1oth Deadline

Westlands Water District is pleased to announce it is accepting applications for the District’s annual scholarship program. This is the thirteenth consecutive year the District will provide scholarships to recognize and reward exceptional academic achievement and leadership by graduating seniors.

Scholarships are awarded to students from the following west side high schools: Coalinga, Firebaugh, Lemoore, Mendota, Riverdale, and Tranquility.

“These scholarships represent a small gesture of thanks and support to the communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that contribute to making our region productive and vibrant,” said Tom Birmingham, Westlands’ general manager. “We hope the recipients of these scholarships will continue to contribute to their communities and make them even better for future generations.”

Each scholarship recipient will receive $1,000 to be used for college expenses. Applicants are judged on their academic performance, school activities, and community leadership.

Past scholarship recipients have enrolled into California State University, Fresno; University of California, Berkeley; California Polytechnic State University; University of California, Los Angeles; West Hills Community College; and more.

Applications and all supporting documents are due by May 10 and may be submitted by mail to P.O. Box 6056, Fresno, CA 93703 or in person to 3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno, between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For an application and list of instructions, please contact the public affairs office at (559) 241-6233 or visit https://wwd.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/scholarship-application.pdf.

Yes, A Disappointing 55 Percent Water Allocation for Farmers

Statement from Westlands Water District on Bureau of Reclamation’s Water Allocation Announcement

News Release

Today, the Bureau of Reclamation announced that the water allocation for South-of-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) agricultural water contractors has been increased from 35 percent to 55 percent. The increase is an improvement for the farmers and farmworkers in the Westlands Water District, but, given the healthy hydological conditions throughout the state, today’s announcement is a disappointment.

For years, we have been told that the farmers served by south-of-Delta ag service contractors received water allocation reductions due to water shortages. But this year, water is abundant, which is why today’s announcement is so frustrating. A 55 percent allocation, during a year with snowpack and reservoir levels well above average, further illustrates the extent to which California’s water supply system is broken and how important it is that we find long-term solutions to problems plaguing the water deliver system in California.

As of today, Lake Shasta is at 85 percent capacity and 111 percent of its historical average. San Luis Reservoir is at 99 percent capacity and 113 percent of its historical average. Yet, despite the availability of water, the rigid regulatory constraints imposed on operations of the CVP continue to prevent Reclamation from making common-sense water management decisions.

William Bourdeau Speaks Out About SGMA

William Bourdeau: Surface Water Must Be Tied to SGMA

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

William Bourdeau is Vice President of Harris Farms, a Director of Westlands Water District, and Chairman of the Board of the California Water Alliance. Bourdeau recently talked to California Ag Today about the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which will force growers in 2040 to keep the water levels in their wells in balance and not allow over-drafting.

William Bourdeau

“It’s mostly about living and growing up in the community and hearing about what the people did when I was still young,” Bourdeau said. “I understand that we were over-drafting the aquifer in the early days of agriculture on the west side of the valley and some very innovative, pioneering individuals figured out how to solve the problem. They built the Central Valley Project and delivered surface water. And if you look at the statistics, the problem was nearly solved. It’s only started to become a problem when the surface water deliveries have been cut off as a result of the biological opinions.”

“I can’t understand why that we can’t solve this problem. And I do think surface deliveries need to be tied into SGMA,” he said.

Bourdeau said he believes that the problem can be solved and not be detrimental to the environment.

“But any solution must consider humans and our needs … surface deliveries need to be incorporated into the plan,” Bourdeau added. “We need to use sound science, and it needs to be peer-reviewed.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to preserve a domestic food supply capability. I think it’s in our national interest. … It’s a national security issue,” he said.

Bourdeau believes that we need to get away from looking at these very narrow issues and look at the big picture.

“We must find a way to do what’s best, and not all the decisions are going to be desirable, but I do think we can. We can make decisions that solve the problem and don’t take this wonderful resource out of production.

As a director for Westlands Water District, Bourdeau said no stones will be unturned for compliance to SGMA.

“We’re doing everything we can to try to make sure that we manage this situation to the best of our ability and our growers are represented in a way that they will succeed in the long term,” he said.

Farmers Frustrated Over SGMA

CA Department of Water Resources Rolls Out SGMA Regulations at Meeting

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

The California Department of Water Resources held a recent workshop in Clovis, CA, to lay out the key components and regulations for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, known as SGMA. It’s thought that SGMA could forever change the face of agriculture in the central San Joaquin Valley, as it will limit the amount of groundwater that can be pumped.

turlock irrigation canal
If surface water was available for growers, the SGMA law would not have been created.

This entire approach of the Department of Water Resources is not sitting well with most farmers. Keith Freitas, who farms lemons on the east side of Fresno County, was at that recent workshop. “How can you call a program fair, but the stakeholders you bring to the table, before they enter the room to negotiate the deal, you cut their legs off?” Freitas asked.

“That’s basically what we have. We have a foot race here, but our legs have been cut off before the race even starts,” he said

And here’s the problem – there’s six deadly sins: lowering ground water levels, reducing ground water storage, increasing sea water intrusion, causing unreasonable water quality degradation, causing land subsidence and depleting surface water supplies that would have a significant and unreasonable adverse impact on beneficial uses of the surface water.

“The reason there’s six deadly sins is ’cause they’re all about the sins of the farmer. Not one of those sins is environmental,” Freitas said. “You think about it. We already have a subsidence and they know it, they don’t blame the environmentalists for subsidence, they blame farming.”

Farmers feel that if environmental water restrictions were not in place, there would be no overdraft of ground water or subsidence.

“How do you think we’re going to sustain overdraft pumping,” asked Freitas, “if they don’t have surface water to recharge the ground basin?”

“My perspective is that like Westlands Water District, who decided to turn down the twin tunnels – that decision was made I think in parallel to the overall consensus of farmers saying that if it’s going to be this way, if these are the rules that you’re going to set and these are the game rules, then we have no choice but to fight back,” Freitas said.

Water Reductions Would Devastate Valley

Big Study Shows Loss to Central Valley Economy with Loss of Water

By Patrick Cavanaugh. Farm News Director

A new study entitled, “The Implications of Agricultural Water for the Central Valley,” by Dr. Michael Shires of Pepperdine University, shows the economic implications of water in the Central Valley, and the potential outcome of continued water reductions in agriculture.

Agriculture is a major part of California’s economy, and this study illustrates both the outcome of increased water allocation and the potential growth that would come with it, or what could happen to the economy if this decline continues. This continued loss of water would result in a huge increase in the unemployment rate. Fresno would require 6.2 billion in solar farm investment annually to replace agricultural jobs that would be lost.

Johnny Amaral is the Deputy General Manager of External Affairs of the Westlands Water District. We spoke with him about Dr. Shire’s study, and what it means for the Central Valley. Shires is an economics professor at Pepperdine.

“He’s been involved for years, and has done economic reports and studies for other organizations and other groups with a particular interest in how public policy affects the economy and certain industries,” Amaral said. “And a couple of years ago, we started working with Dr. Shires in this debate over public policy as it relates to water.”

A lot of false information circulates about water use and agriculture. Most of this misinformation leads to a general negative opinion about agriculture, especially when it comes to water use.

“We’re constantly dealing with misinformation, deliberate misinformation about water policy, about agriculture,” Amaral said.

“You hear all the buzz words all the time about ag uses 80% of the water, which is not true. We’re constantly dealing with misinformation, so we thought it would make sense to have a document put together, a study done to show just what agriculture means to the Central Valley and to the state,” Amaral said.