Westlands Water District
Westlands Water District is a water district in central California, i.e. a local-government entity formed in 1952 that holds long-term contracts for water supplied by the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. It is the largest agricultural water district in the US, 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 is the largest agricultural water district in the United States. Farms in Westlands make up less than one-tenth of the 6.9 million acres of farmland in California. It has been the focal point for many controversial water issues in California and beyond, because of its size. Roughly 600 farmers own land, many of them are large (25,000 acres) but many also small.
Economical significance of district agriculture
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, per the Fresno County Farm Bureau. That averages out to about $1,700 of gross revenues per acre. Despite this apparent productivity, a 2008 study by Oxfam and the Rockefeller foundation found that the 20th U.S. Congressional District is the poorest congressional district in the United States. Westlands water district famers receive a triple subsidy- cheap water, USDA crop subsidies, and below-market electricity.
The Reclamation Act of 1902 required that farmers live on their land, because Westlands had many absent landowners at the time of federal contracting, and that they only receive water for 160 acres. From 1915 until the mid forties water from deep wells irrigated the land and lowered the water table. In 1942, the 'Westside Landowners Association' formed to help finance studies of developing an alternative water supply for the west side. They contracted with the Bureau of Reclamation, to determine if surface water from the Central Valley Project (CVP) through an off-stream site at San Luis could reach west side lands.
In 1952, owners of 400,000 acres of west side land successfully petitioned the Fresno County Board of Supervisors to form a water district. In 1961, the State of California signed a contract with the federal government for federal construction of the San Luis Unit of the CVP, including a drain, followed by its construction over 6 years and operation since 1968. The government had agreed to build a drain as well, well aware that the irrigation in parts of Westlands would saturate the root zone. Due to environmental concerns and budget constraints only the first part of the San Luis Drain was completed. The half-completed drain created Kesterson Wildlife Refuge Congress passed the 'Reclamation Reform Act of 1982', which increased allowable irrigated land to 960 acres (3.9 km²) and struck the requirement that west side landowners remain near their lands. In 1985 the drain had to be closed by court order due to high levels of heavy metals, such as selenium, boron, chromium, molybdenum and salts in the drained water, violating environmental laws . 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." The California drought, beginning in 1987, led to reductions in surface water delivery.
Up until 2006 the Westlands Water District had spent less than $100,000 annually on lobbying. In 2006 it increased to $208,000, to pay two firms, and $266,000 in 2009 to pay three lobbying groups. In 2012 lobbying expenses further increased to $370,000, to pay three groups, and in 2013 to $600,000 for 5 lobbying groups and their 9 lobbyists.
- Water in California
- Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta
- Sacramento River
- San Joaquin River
- Central Valley Project
- California Water Wars
- Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act (H.R. 3964; 113th Congress)
- Reaping Riches in a Wretched Region: Subsidized Industrial Farming and Its Link to Perpetual Poverty
- Jenkins, Matt (27 Jan 2011). "Where Westlands water flows, California’s agriculture follows". Grist Magazine, Inc. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
- Fast Facts on Fresno County and California Agriculture Archived December 18, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- See Michael Doyle The Results are in: San Joaquin County is the Worst McClatchy Newspapers July 16, 2008 (Citing Sarah Burd-Sharps, Kristin Lewis, and Eduardo Borges Martins, The Measure of America: American Human Development Report 2008-2009
- http://my.firedoglake.com/kirkmurphy/tag/westlands-water-district/[dead link]
- Beckon, W.N.; Henderson,J.D.; Maurer,T.C.; Schwarzbach, S.E. (September 1997). "Biological Effects of the Reopening of the San Luis Drain (Grasslands Bypass Project) to Carry Subsurface Irrigation Drainwate". Sacramento, CA: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Div. of Env. Contaminants. Retrieved 12 May 2014.
- "Westlands Water District". website. Center for Responsive Politics. Retrieved 17 April 2014.
- "Lobbyists representing Westlands Water District, 2013". website. Center for Responsive Politics. Retrieved 17 April 2014.