Westlands Water Goes Rogue

Westlands Water District, the largest water district in the nation, has “gone rogue,” quitting the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), according to the Planning and Conservation League’s “PCL Insider” published on March 5.

On February 28, Westlands terminated its membership in the state’s largest coalition of public water purveyors, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), “further isolating itself from mainstream negotiations over water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,” PCL said.

Westlands, the biggest federal water customer in California, is regarded as the “Darth Vader” of California water districts by environmentalists, California Indian Tribes, fishing groups and those seeking to restore collapsing Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations and the thousands of jobs that they have historically supported. The district over the decades has filed lawsuit after lawsuit to block the restoration of the Trinity, Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and California Delta.

The District officially described their withdrawal from the association as a “financial decision,” saying the District needs to focus its resources on lawsuits against fish and wildlife protections in the Delta, and can no longer afford the $19,000 annual membership fee.

However, in a February 3rd letter to ACWA’s leadership, Westlands President Jean P. Sagouspe made it clear that ACWA’s politics are the problem, complaining that ACWA’s policies no longer represent Westlands or further its interests. Sagoupse criticized Tim Quinn, ACWA Executive Director, for advocating policies and making statements that conflict with Westlands’ interests.

“It was our hope that Tim would cease making such statements,” Sagouspe said. “But he has not.”

PCL noted that ACWA, as the statewide association of water agencies that manage water supplies for tens of millions of Californians, has chosen to “engage cooperatively” in negotiations over water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, recognizing that “unilateral action is counterproductive to creating ecologically and economically sustainable solutions for California’s water needs.”

“In contrast, Westlands Water District has shown disregard for important scientific information about the Delta ecosystems and impatience with public negotiations, striking deals with powerful politicians behind closed doors and aggressively pursuing a litigious rather than collaborative approach. While such tactics are hard to legitimize within a large association of water agencies, they may be easier to pursue solo. If successful, they could prove disastrous for California’s economy and environment,” PCL concluded.

Westlands Seeks Permit to Pollute Drinking Water

Westlands is also “going rogue” in seeking a permit to pollute the drinking water supply for millions of Californians with its tainted groundwater, according to a coalition of environmental, fishing and tribal groups.

“Westlands has proposed a project to discharge up to 100,000 acre feet of groundwater into the State Water Project’s California Aqueduct, a drinking water supply for approximately 20 million people,” revealed Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “Westland’s groundwater is highly contaminated with selenium, boron, and salts.”

Their plan is to pump the groundwater from land near the aqueduct and convey it through the aqueduct for withdrawal and use on other land within the district.

“This is sort of like taking an on-ramp to Interstate 5 somewhere south of Santa Nella, then taking the off-ramp at Kettleman City,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta. “Of course, they won’t have any trouble keeping that ground water (50% of it too brackish to use, according to the Bureau of Reclamation) from mixing with the other water in the canal and passing on through to some of the 20 million people who rely on the SWP for drinking water.”

Westlands And Feinstein Wage War on Salmon, Fishermen

The Westlands Water District and agribusiness tycoon Stewart Resnick, owner of 115,000 acres of farmland in Kern County, have collaborated with Senator Dianne Feinstein, the “Patron Saint” of corporate agribusiness, to wage war on salmon and salmon fishermen.

Among the many administrative, legal and legislative attacks against salmon, the environment and West Coast fishing jobs that Feinstein, Westlands and Resnick have launched, the following stand out:

• Feinstein and Westlands have continually campaigned for a peripheral canal around the California Delta, a $23 billion to $53.8 billion project. Environmentalists, fishermen and California Indian Tribes oppose the peripheral canal, since it is not only enormously expensive, but it likely to seal the doom of imperiled Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

• At the urging of agribusiness giant Stewart Resnick, Feinstein pressured the Obama administration to review the court-ordered biological opinions for Delta smelt and Central Valley salmon at a special meeting of the National Academy of Sciences in January. Since this opinion was initiated under the Bush administration, this objectively puts Feinstein and the Obama administration to the environmental right of the Bush regime!

• Feinstein, at the behest of the Westlands, recently sponsored an amendment to the jobs bill that would strip protections for Delta fish and Central Valley salmon and increase the pumping of water from the Delta. Although Feinstein decided to put the amendment on hold after the federal government announced that it would release more water to west side growers because of improved snowpack, there is no doubt that she will try again to push her legislation through the Senate and House.

• Finally, in a poorly-written op-ed in the Sacramento Bee Feinstein, imitating talk show host Sean Hannity and Governor Schwarzenegger, tried to falsely portray the campaign to restore the Delta and Central Valley salmon fishing jobs and a conflict between “fish and jobs.”

Feinstein Provides Cover for Valley Democrats

Why is Feinstein so fierce in her defense of Westlands and other agribusiness giants?

“Politics is one answer,” said Stuart Leavenworth, Sacramento Bee editorial page editor, in his column on March 7. “Farm water is a huge issue for Valley Democrats trying to keep their seats this year. By putting pressure on the Obama administration to favor farmers over fish, Feinstein provides cover for vulnerable Dems, such as U.S. Reps. Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.”

I agree. The decision by Westlands to pull out of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) occurs within the larger context of Westlands and other corporate agribusiness interests teaming up with Democratic Senators and Representatives to eviscerate Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt for their own cynical political gain.

Want to learn more about Westlands? A new Salmon Water Now video shines a light on the ongoing problem of Westlands Water District’s irrigation of toxic land. The video provides historical perspective on the district’s recent attacks on fish and the environment, including the plan to pump up to 100,000 acre-feet per year of potentially tainted groundwater into the California Aqueduct.

To watch the video, go to YouTube.

For more information, go to http://salmonwaternow.org.

DAN BACHER can be reached at: Danielbacher@fishsniffer.com


Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento. He can be reached at: Dan Bacher danielbacher@fishsniffer.com.