Westlands Water District
Westlands Water District is a water district in central California, formed in 1952. The Westlands Water District receives its water from the Central Valley Project, and provides water to farms in an area of approximately 600,000 acres (2,400 km²) in Fresno County and Kings County. Its headquarters are in Fresno.
Westlands has been the focal point for many controversial water issues in California because of its size--it is the largest agricultural water district in the United States. The Reclamation Act of 1902 required that farmers live on their land (Westlands had many absent landowners at the time of federal contracting) and only receive water for 160 acres (In 1968, 11% of the owners owned 84% of the land).
Farms within Westlands produce approximately $1 billion worth of food and fiber per year, more than 20 percent of the agricultural output of Fresno County. That averages out to about $1,700 of gross revenues per acre.
Instead of enforcing the Act, Congress passed the Reclamation Reform Act in 1982, boosting allowable irrigated land to 960 acres (3.9 km²) and eliminating the provision that landowners remain near their lands. Furthermore, in building the San Luis Unit, the federal government agreed to build a drain as well, well aware the irrigation in parts of Westlands would saturate the root zone. However, only the first part of the San Luis Drain was ever completed, and this half-completed drain created Kesterson Wildlife Refuge. "Due to environmental concerns and budget constraints, the drain was never completed as originally planned." The drain was closed by court order in 1985 for violation of environmental laws due to high levels of heavy metals, such as selenium, in the drained water. The soil in the upslope regions of the district contains "extraordinarily elevated concentrations of selenium, boron, chromium, molybdenum, and extremely high concentrations of various salts that disrupt the normal ionic balance of the aquatic system."
- Fast Facts on Fresno County and California Agriculture
- US Fish and Wildlife Service: What are the Biological Effects of Reopening the San Luis Drain?