In February, a federal judge approved a settlement that frees the government from draining some of the land. Instead, the government will pay $107 million over three years to help buy out farmers and retire 33,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the district.
While most people agree that the land should be taken out of production, not everyone agrees on the settlement’s terms. “The $100 million in direct damage payments is just the tip of the iceberg that taxpayers will shower on these highly subsidized farmers,” says Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., citing another $150 million in costs and subsidies hidden in the details.
Others believe that the settlement is a good deal, considering that the farmers claim to have lost $400 million. “The claims for damage were far higher than what we will pay out,” says the Bureau of Reclamation’s Kirk Rodgers.
This arrangement may set the tone for future land settlements in the district; Westlands plans to retire another 170,000 selenium-contaminated acres from farming.