The Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) recently announced a 20 percent initial allocation for Southof-Delta Central Valley Project (CVP) contractors. While the announcement was disappointing, Westlands is working closely with the Bureau to ensure that the final allocation better reflects the state’s available water resources.
The Bureau’s initial allocation was, in part, limited by current regulations. But the Bureau’s recent decision to begin reevaluating the current operations of the Central Valley Project (CVP) for the purpose of maximizing water supplies for communities throughout the state is a positive sign. This process, authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvement for the Nation (WIIN) Act, sets in motion an extraordinary opportunity to develop an operational plan that encourages more pumping during wet periods, greater storage at California reservoirs, and expanded opportunity for water sharing among contractors.
As you might imagine, this is welcomed news as it could represent the first time in recent memory that actions will be taken to return the CVP to its original purpose which is to deliver much needed water to cities, communities, and farms that turn water into healthy food for the state, nation, and world.
Westlands Water District has submitted formal comments to the Bureau outlining the need for improvement of the CVP and providing specific changes that will improve water delivery. Thus far, the Bureau has held three hearings in California and will be reviewing comments by a variety of stakeholders.
This Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is expected to be primarily programmatic in nature. It is anticipated that this current programmatic effort will be followed by tiered projectlevel National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses to implement various site-specific projects or detailed programs that were generally described in the programmatic EIS.
The EIS will consider proposed action and alternatives, including a No Action Alternative.
The Bureau lists several actions that may be considered:
- increase storage capacity upstream of the Delta for the CVP
- increase storage capacity South-of-Delta
- increase export capabilities through the Delta
- generate additional water through desalinization, water conservation, or water reuse
- modify environmental and regulatory requirements, and sharing of water and responsibilities in the Delta
- improve habitat restoration and ecosystem to increase fish populations
- modify state and federal facilities to reduce impacts to listed species
Westlands will be closely following the Bureau’s evaluation and process to develop an agency-preferred alternative. We will take the opportunity to provide testimony and comments when appropriate. Please contact me with any questions or comments about this matter.
Westlands Water District Responds to Misleading San Francisco Chronicle Article
Westlands Water-U.S. drainage settlement is fair and equitable
By Johnny Amaral
March 7, 2018
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle
After decades of hearings, reports and public meetings and a comprehensive review by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Interior, as well as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the United States and the Westlands Water District hammered out a landmark, bipartisan settlement that provides a transparent, fair and equitable solution to a 50-year dispute over the federal government’s responsibility to provide drainage services for Central Valley farmers.
It is fair for farmers, who lost the productive use of their land, and for the federal government, which faced liability for the property damage estimated by the Justice Department to be as high as $2 billion. Negotiated by the Obama administration, the settlement resolves the long-standing litigation, clearing the way for farmers who receive water from the federal Central Valley Project to regain productive use of their land, and providing numerous economic and environmental benefits for the San Joaquin Valley and California.
Now it is time for Congress to finalize the settlement.
Despite efforts by some to tie the settlement to unrelated issues, the basis of the settlement was solely the determination of which entity was at fault. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has found that the Department of the Interior is required to provide drainage services for lands served by the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, and the government’s failure to provide drainage caused the environmental damage to farmlands.
As with any settlement, both parties were required to compromise and agree to terms that they did not want to accept in order to provide finality to a decades-long conflict. First, Westlands agreed to retire no less than 100,000 acres of land from production, which reduces the amount of land that can be farmed in the region. The district has retired that farmland. Second, the settlement limits Westlands to 75 percent of the water it is contractually entitled to receive.
Third, Westlands will indemnify the United States for future claims resulting from the federal government’s failure to comply with the law.
And, Westlands agreed to take responsibility for drainage and damage to drainage-impaired lands.
That’s one of the reasons the settlement was approved by the Obama administration and is also supported by the Trump administration. Regarding agricultural operations in the future, Westlands and the Obama administration’s Interior Department developed several options: land retirement, groundwater management, source control, regional reuse projects, drain-water treatment and salt disposal. Moreover, Interior reiterated: “Westlands will be subject to all state and federal laws and regulations regarding its obligation to provide drainage and will be subject to those requirements under the settlement.” And if Westlands fails to perform, its water supply will be shut off.
There have been decades of delay for the Central Valley farmers who lost the productive use of their land. The settlement is a bipartisan agreement that was hammered out over a decade and brings finality and stability to the state’s agricultural producers. The final step in the process is Congressional approval of the settlement. That action will demonstrate that a carefully negotiated, bipartisan agreement can be approved for the benefits of all parties.
Johnny Amaral is the deputy general manager of external affairs of the Westlands Water District, an agricultural irrigation district serving 600,000 acres of farmlands in the western San Joaquin Valley.