Westlands Water District: California WaterFix Is ‘Not Financially Viable’

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The Westlands Water District’s Board of Directors rejected Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project on September 19 because the California WaterFix “is not financially viable,” according to a statement from the district.
The district also said they cannot support a project that would make water supplies “unaffordable” for Westlands farmers.

The powerful agricultural water district’s rejection of the Governor’s “legacy project” is a potentially fatal blow to the controversial project, since other water districts slated to vote on the WaterFix in the next few weeks could follow Westlands’ lead and vote no also.

Here is the complete statement:

“After a thorough analysis by independent consultants and District staff, multiple special board meetings, and grower workshops, the Westlands Water District Board of Directors voted by a margin of 7 to 1 to not participate in the California WaterFix (CWF). The District appreciates the efforts of Governor Jerry Brown and his administration to balance the interests of many. Indeed, over the last twelve months the State administration worked diligently to define a viable project, but from Westlands’ perspective, the project is not financially viable.

Westlands’ principal source of water is the Central Valley Project, a project operated by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The CVP is integrated both operationally and financially. However, under the “participation approach” announced by Reclamation for CWF, only CVP contractors that chose to participate in CWF would pay the costs of constructing and operating new facilities, with no assurance that those contractors would receive the water supply benefits resulting from CWF.

Westlands supported the development of CWF and has invested considerable financial resources, time, and expertise into its planning, but consistently stated that it would not obligate the farmers it serves to billions of dollars in debt without reasonable assurances that the project would produce reliable, affordable water supplies. The District recognizes that solving Delta conveyance issues is critical to ensuring reliable water supplies to support the economy of the State, but it cannot support a project that would make water supplies for its farmers unaffordable.

Westlands Water District is the largest agricultural water district in the United States, made up of more than 1,000 square miles of prime farmland in western Fresno and Kings Counties. Under federal contracts, Westlands provides water to 700 family-owned farms that average 875 acres in size.”

Governor Jerry Brown, who has been out of the state at climate conferences in New York and Connecticut this week, hasn’t yet responded to the Westlands decision.

However, California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird tried to downplay the significance of the vote against the tunnels.

“There is one thing on which everyone agrees: Our aging infrastructure needs to be modernized,” Laird said in statement. “Failing to act puts future water supply reliability at risk. This vote, while disappointing, in no way signals the end of WaterFix.”

John McManus, Executive Director of the Golden Gate Salmon Association (GGSA), disagreed with Laird, saying that the “takeaway from today’s vote is that the current twin tunnels plan is dying from its own weight.”

“It’s way too big and expensive, even for the growers in the desert-dry western San Joaquin Valley who need the water the most,” said McManus. “There’s no doubt that the existing method of transferring northern California water south is deadly for salmon and other wildlife and absolutely could be improved upon, but not by this behemoth. Maybe this will open the way for a more rational discussion on a new way forward.”

Carolee Krieger, Executive Director of the California Water Impact Network, was also pleased with the Westlands vote.

“If the Central Valley farmers can’t afford this expensive boondoggle, how do the State Water project urban ratepayers think they can pay 100 percent of these costs?” Krieger said. “The tunnels project could bankrupt many water agencies, including the four South Coast water agencies in Santa Barbara County, while providing no benefits.”

“What really needs to happen is the state must come to grips with how much water there really is available in the Delta watershed,” noted Krieger. “At this point, it’s been documented that there are 5-1/2 times more water rights promised than can ever be delivered and our public trust resources have been totally left out of that number. Our public trust assets need to have a seat at the table when the courts adjudicate the water that’s really there.”

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board is tentatively scheduled to vote on whether or not to support the WaterFix on October 17. Yesterday the district voted to pass a “no regrets package” planning $100 million for 9 different projects like stormwater capture, leak repair and gray water, according to Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD).

Delta Tunnels opponents are urging people to show up for their public meeting on September 26th to tell them to vote no on the project.

Also yesterday, the Los Angeles City Council Energy and Environmental Committee voted no for the Delta Tunnels project — until the project is fully financed and the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California meets all their considerations.

The MWD Board is expected to make its decision whether or not to finance the California WaterFix at its meeting on Tuesday, October 10: mwdh2o.com/…

“California WaterFix has long been envisioned as a partnership between urban water agencies and agriculture,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the MWD, in response to the Westlands decision. “It was clear that this would be a difficult vote for Westlands, as it is for us all. It’s equally clear that actions must be taken to secure a reliable water supply for the state and to safeguard our economy. California must find a path forward from here that works for all of the partners.”

Delta Tunnels opponents, including water ratepayers, environmental justice advocates, family farmers, Tribal leaders, Delta residents, recreational and commercial fishermen, conservationists, and many elected officials, say the project is potentially the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history.

The tunnels will hasten the extinction of Central Valley steelhead, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species, as well as imperil salmon and steelhead populations on both the Trinity and Klamath rivers, according to project opponents and scientists.