December 17, 2013

Westlands Water District Supports Long- and Short-Term Governmental Solutions for Water Crisis

Westlands Water District expressed its support TODAY of federal and state governments’ efforts to address California's water crisis and the conditions that are causing both near- and long-term water supply problems. 

"We applaud the leadership of elected officials to bring attention to California's water crisis and the ramifications of current conditions and policies," said Thomas W. Birmingham, General Manager, Westlands Water District. "State and federal government action is needed to resolve the immediate water supply shortages and provide farmers and communities with reasonable assurance that they have the water resources needed to operate their businesses and keep people at work."

"We cannot afford another year of uncertainty that will harm an industry that generates billions of dollars in economic activity and plays such an important role in the lives of the people that depend on agriculture," said Birmingham.

The San Joaquin Valley faces the prospect of a record low water allocation, an historic low point in water supply reliability, and yet another year of extreme economic hardship. Without substantive action to address water supply problems, agricultural production will be greatly impacted, which will have negative consequences for numerous industries and thousands of jobs that directly or indirectly rely on the agricultural industry. This problem affects not just the Central Valley, but also the whole state of California.

Westlands encompasses more than 600,000 acres of farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. The District serves approximately 700 family-owned farms that average 875 acres in size. Westlands farmers produce more than 60 high quality commercial food and fiber crops sold for the fresh, dry, canned and frozen food markets, both domestic and export. More than 50,000 people live and work in the communities dependent on the District's agricultural economy.

If unaddressed, the drought would pose a potential economic impact to the region exceeding $1 billion dollars. Indirect ripple effects of an economic downturn in agricultural production could impact related businesses including food processing, distribution, retailers, grocers, and banking.  

Westlands is calling upon policymakers to learn from those lessons of the past. The previous water crisis in 2009 caused farmers to fallow more than 300,000 acres of land and change their crops and production levels. Statewide, income losses were estimated at $2.8 billion and more than 95,000 jobs were lost. High levels of unemployment left communities in financial peril.

Now, the same water supply conditions are creating the same ramifications that devastated San Joaquin Valley communities in 2009; however, impacts are expected to be more severe because there are fewer options and coping mechanisms available now. Groundwater supplies are low, land is subsiding, and reservoirs are far below average levels. Therefore, Westlands is encouraging state and federal policy changes to provide water now.

"Westlands strongly supports federal and state efforts to implement a long-term solution to improve water reliability through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. We will continue to work with the agencies and officials to make that plan a reality. However, the current crisis demonstrates the need for a near-term solution. We cannot wait any longer. The time is now to recognize the importance of a reliable water supply and to take action to protect the hardworking families of the Central Valley, and the broader California economy," said Birmingham.