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Westlands hordes surplus water while fish die and unemployed farm workers beg for food and work


CSPA calls for investigation into surplus water by Westlands and others, Delta standards continue to be violated!


by Bill Jennings, Executive Director, CSPA

Stockton, CA - Wednesday, August 19, 2009.  As broadcast and print media report heart-rendering stories about Westlands Water District having to fallow fields thus putting people out of work and placing farms in jeopardy because of a lack of water, the District has been squirreling away surplus water it can't use.  The California Sportfishing Protection Alliance (CSPA) has discovered a Westlands' information bulletin dated 23 July 2009 revealing that the giant irrigation district has been hiding considerable carryover storage from last year and is adding even more this year.  CSPA is calling for an investigation into Westlands' surplus water and possible surplus water hidden away by other water districts.

At the end of 2008, Westlands had some 233,998 acre-feet (AF) of water stored in other facilities that it didn't need.  Some 93,700 AF of that stored water was used through June 2009.  However, the export pumping restrictions caused by the Delta Smelt Biological Opinion ended 30 June and the State and Federal Projects have ramped up pumping.  Westlands has made firm commitments to acquire 141,522 AF of supplemental water and is requesting additional supplies.  Consequently, Westlands staff projects that the District will end the water year with approximately 275,000 AF of water it is unable to use. 

CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings said, “The idea that Westlands Water District has been hording surplus water it can't use while farm workers have been paid to hold vocal protests around the Central Valley accusing Congressman George Miller and federal agencies of starving farmers in order to protect Delta smelt is outrageous.”  “Perhaps Congressmen Devin Nunes and Dennis Cardoza can use their influence to persuade Westlands to share some of their stored water wealth to benefit those less fortunate,” he said, adding “clearly an investigation is needed to see who else might be hording surplus water.”

The bulletin also points out that the Banks pumping plant of the State Water Project has been pumping about 1,000 AF of Central Valley Project daily.  Of course use of the “Joint Point of Diversion” (JPOD) is illegal and violates D-1641, the State Water Resource Control Board's (State Board) order implementing the Bay-Delta Plan. D-1641 explicitly prohibits use of JPOD when south Delta salinity standards are being violated.   Presently the running 30-day average for electrical conductivity, the measure of salinity, at Old River near Tracy is 1.02 umhos/cm.  The water quality standard for this period is 0.7 umhos/cm to protect Delta agriculture.  South Delta salinity standards have been continually violated the last seven months.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) and California Department of Water Resources (DWR) have been ignoring the Cease & Desist Order issued by the State Board in 2006 for violation of south Delta salinity standards.  Recently, they requested an extension of the compliance schedule for that Cease & Desist Order beyond the 1 July 2009 deadline.  CSPA was a party in the June 2009 State Board evidentiary hearing regarding the DWR/USBR request.  Even though the State Board declared in 2006 they would not again extend the compliance schedule, they are expected to shortly issue a decision extending the schedule and excusing past violations.  CSPA is prepared to sue over the Board's continued refusal to enforce the Cease & Desist Order.  However, the prohibition against using JPOD while standards are violated was neither raised nor discussed in that hearing.

Earlier this year, the State Board held hearings to consider a relaxation of Delta outflow standards because they were being violated.  While April rains eliminated the need for relaxed standards the Board refused to penalize the USBR and DWR for violating existing standards.  In June, the USBR acknowledged that Vernalis flows were only about 59% of required flow.  Again, the State Board took no action.  Water quality standards in the southern Delta have been consistently exceeded since last December. 

Jennings observed that, “the State Board continues to look the other way as virtually all of the standards protecting the Delta and its collapsing fisheries are ignored and DWR and USBR violate the law in order to supply Westlands with water they can't use.”

CSPA remains concerned about the plight of unemployed farm workers, even as we note that data from the California Economic Development Department and annual reports from County Agricultural Commissioners reveal that both farm labor employment and the value of agricultural production has increased in the seven south-of-Delta counties over the course of the drought.

Westlands Water District July 21Board Report