Arrogant irrigators


"California Dreamin' " provided a good overview of the water issues in the San Francisco Bay-Delta region of California (HCN, 12/20/10). However, additional information on the Westlands Water District would have made the article even better. Westlands is comprised mostly of large family or corporate-owned farms. They are one of the primary beneficiaries of the federally funded Central Valley Project, built by the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation using public taxes. Westlands owes over $500 million on the Central Valley Project and has paid no interest on this debt. The district has not paid for the toxicity to fish and wildlife from selenium and other contaminants drained into canals, sloughs and the San Joaquin River. Farmers continue to receive heavily subsidized water -- now about $50 per acre-foot -- when market prices are approaching $650 per acre-foot. This is government welfare for rich and powerful farmers. Moreover, Westlands has only junior water rights. The district's insistence on water deliveries at 2005 levels is arrogant and unsupportable.

Farming in the area would not be profitable without heavily subsidized imported water, crop price supports and drainage. This area is in a desert climate with poorly drained, increasingly salinized soils. If people knew what they provide to these wealthy farms, I doubt they would approve. The ecological integrity of the Delta should not be sacrificed for unsupportable water demands.

Marc A. Sylvester
Sonoma, California

Wstlands Water District
Lloyd` Carter
Lloyd` Carter
Feb 07, 2011 08:38 AM
Readers interested in more information on the social impacts of the federal irrigation projects in central California can read my law review article at The link to the law review article is in the upper right corner of the home page.
    Lloyd Carter
    California Save Our Streams Council
Feb 07, 2011 12:22 PM
There are a number of factual problems with the comment above. If you don't like Westlands eating at the public trough, that is fine, but they are not unique in CA except for their size.
Every CVP contractor pays no interest on the capital cost of the CVP. Westlands does not have junior water rights - they have a contract with the Bureau which is subject to supply constraints like all the other south-of-delta contractors, and those are likely to take more or a hit than north-of-delta contractors. Market prices are no where near $650 per acre-foot. On the margin, in dry years, delivered to SoCal, perhaps yes. But that is an apples to oranges comparison. Dry year market prices for ag water are a lot lower. And they pay more than most farmers in that region - non-CVP users pay substantially less for their water (Merced ID, Turlock, Modesto ID, SSJID, Oakdale, etc.)

Farming is profitable there w/o subsidized water as was the case before the CVP came in - some areas are not arable, but many are.

So the bottom line is that if people knew the facts, I think they would continue to act as they do now - with apathy towards Westlands and no outrage because Westlands actually pays more than many neighbors and uses water quite efficiently.

THe environmental disaster with Kesterson is a separate story, and they and the government each deserve ridicule, although it is hard to blame Westlands when the USBR stipulated in the contracts that they would provide drainage...
Mike Wade
Mike Wade Subscriber
Feb 08, 2011 10:26 AM
Water contractors of the Central Valley Project, including Westlands, make annual payments to the Bureau of Reclamation according to existing contracts. These contracts require repayment for the CVP construction costs excluding the interest. Water contractors do not pay this interest because Congress waived that charge in an effort to encourage farmers to grow crops on the land receiving water. Crops grown with the CVP water provide a safe and affordable supply of food to consumers throughout the world. This is one investment that has more than paid for itself.

Junior water rights? Forget it...they don’t exist. Water supply contracts with users are individual documents that do not include any reference to a ranking for delivery that the author and others would have the public to believe.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition