Dear Westlands Water Users,
April 2022 marks my one-year anniversary of becoming President of the Westlands Water District Board of Directors. As I reflect upon the last year, I am reminded of the unprecedented challenges Westlands and farmers have faced as well as the tremendous steps we have taken to better serve the farmers in the District.
Without question, the last year has been difficult. The stress caused by ongoing drought and two successive years of a zero allocation from the Central Valley Project have caused unimaginable difficulties for the farmers served by Westlands, the people employed by those farmers, and the communities that both support and are supported by farming in Westlands. This stress has been compounded by the implementation of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which no one could have imagined would become operative in the worst three-year dry period in California’s history. But dry conditions and the uncertainty surrounding our water supply make it all the more important that we continue to push for improvements both in and beyond Westlands. As difficult as the last year has been, there have been a number of successes.
WORKING TO SECURE AN ADEQUATE AND RELIABLE WATER SUPPLY
Westlands’ primary focus is on providing an adequate, reliable water supply for our farmers. During this historic drought and zero percent allocations, doing so comes in the form of acquiring supplemental supplies. In the 2021-22 water year, Westlands acquired more than 150,000 acre-feet of supplemental water. Westlands’ ability to acquire this volume of supplemental water speaks to the constructive, collaborative relationship it has with numerous water agencies throughout the Central Valley. Because of the drought, however, there was a question of whether this water could be moved south-of-the-Delta. Westlands worked closely with Bureau of Reclamation staff to ensure this water would be moved in the fall of 2021, despite restrictions imposed on operations of the CVP.
Westlands has also been pursuing regional solutions. The Storage Treatment Aquifer and Recovery (STAR) Program, for example, is a program Westlands has developed during this past year. The STAR Program includes capturing excess flows, as well as treating water from the unconfined upper aquifer, for storage and injection into the groundwater basin. Westlands is working diligently to advance the STAR Program as well as other recharge and storage projects-including through actions taken by Westlands in its capacity as the Groundwater Sustainability Agency- to improve Westlands’ water supply. These ongoing efforts will not only improve water supply reliability but will also help Westlands comply with SGMA in a manner that optimizes the reasonable and beneficial use of groundwater.
Additionally, in March 2022, Westlands signed the Memorandum of Understanding to advance voluntary agreements as an alternative to the unimpaired flow standard proposed for amendment of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan. These voluntary agreements represent our best hope of maintaining water supplies restored by the 2019 biological opinions, and they represent a paradigm shift in how water resources will be managed. The voluntary agreements would take a comprehensive approach to restoring healthy rivers and ecosystems, improving the viability of native fish populations, and creating a management structure that ensures actions to protect fish are based on science. The voluntary agreements would also provide water supply reliability to communities and farms in nearly every region of the state. Westlands was a leader in negotiating the voluntary agreements and is committed to advancing them as envisioned.
I am also keenly aware of the economic hardship created by the ongoing drought. Westlands works diligently to be mindful of costs while working judiciously to maintain services to farmers, particularly during times of drought. During the last year, Westlands has had major successes in pursuing actions to help keep costs down.Chief among these is the $26 million credit Westlands received this past year from the completion of the Bureau of Reclamation’s cost allocation study for capital costs of the CVP. This cost allocation study was a project on which Westlands worked for more than two decades. Westlands’ analysis and comments throughout this process contributed to the creation of this credit, which will be used to offset operations and maintenance rates paid to Reclamation for the foreseeable future.
Additionally, Westlands has been successful in securing grants from the State and Federal governments that will reduce the cost of major projects Westlands is undertaking. In the last year, the California Department of Water Resources has awarded Westlands a $3.96 million grant to fund the Pasajero Groundwater Recharge Project and a $7.6 million grant to fund three elements of the Westside Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan including the STAR Program Phase I, the Westside Subbasin Groundwater Sustainability Plan (GSP) 5-year Update; and the Westside Subbasin Geophysical Investigation for Recharge Potential. Last year, Westlands also received a $1.6 million WaterSmart grant from the Bureau of Reclamation to implement improvements in Westlands’ metering system.
There are a number of cost saving items still underway such as the sale of the Lower Yolo Ranch, which Westlands recently converted into habitat. These efforts, along with the conversion of Westlands’ contract, help control the costs passed on to our farmers.
IMPROVING COMMUNICATIONS AND RELATIONSHIPS
As a farmer in Westlands myself, I understand the importance of receiving timely information regarding our water supply. This communication is never more important than in times of drought. As such, Westlands has increased its communications with our farmers. In the last year, Westlands has held numerous water users calls so our farmers can receive necessary updates and information from District staff on water supply, SGMA, Board actions, and other key issues.
Additionally, Westlands’ relationship with the employee unions is the best it has ever been. In November of 2021, Operating Engineers Local #3 (OE3) printed an article in their newsletter highlighting the contributions of union members and the great relationship between the union and Westlands. During the pandemic, Westlands went above and beyond to protect all employees as well as to ensure safe working conditions. And, recently, Westlands executed two memoranda of understanding between Westlands and OE3, one for the Miscellaneous Non-Supervisory Unit and one for the Westlands Office & Clerical Employee Association. Westlands continues to work hard to maintain its great relationship with District employees and as well as with OE3.
The struggles of the last year, resulting not only from the drought, but also the pandemic, have made clear the important contributions of Westlands’ farmers. A study, commissioned by Westlands that was released last month by Michael Shires, Ph.D., the associate dean for strategy and special projects and an associate professor of public policy at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, reports that the activities of farmers in Westlands contribute some $4.7 billion dollars of economic activity and nearly 35,000 jobs across the region. The magnitude of these contributions emphasize Westlands’ need for a sustainable water future. Westlands’ Board of Directors and staff are committed to doing everything within their control to sustain farmers’ activities in the District and to preserve irrigated agriculture on the westside of the Valley.
Despite the historic drought we are experiencing, I remain proud of Westlands and proud to be a Westlands’ farmer. Westlands remains solvent, innovative, and dogged in its pursuit of serving District farmers. Our employees work hard to ensure that farmers have affordable and reliable water. While I hope the worst conditions are behind us, I know that everyone at Westlands will continue to work to overcome the challenges thrown our way.