During the Pandemic, Westlands Lobbies for More Delta Water

This article written by a Director of Westlands Water District showed up in CalMatters this week: California water policies inhibit food production by Valley farmers.

Over the past 30 years, federal and California policies have taken away millions of acre-feet of water used by San Joaquin Valley farmers to produce food. Photo via iStock

My reaction to this very slanted, misleading, and downright erroneous opinion piece in a recent CalMatters article written to support Westlands Water District’s ongoing push for more water from the Delta is below:

No one has “taken away millions of acre-feet (MAF) of water” from San Joaquin farmers. The fact is that for decades, twice as much water has been taken out of the Delta more than the environment can handle. This was recognized in 2009 by the legislature’s Delta Reform Act directing Delta projects to start with the Delta Flow Requirements, but the exporters rejected the science. They continue to reject the science and ignoring the law. OF COURSE, pumping six MAF per year instead of the scientifically-approved three to four MAF limit has failed to maintain the species.

It is true that the Valley grows fruits and vegetables for America. Thank you! That is wonderful and something everyone in the state wants to continue or expand. But the same area grows 80-90 percent of the world’s almonds and pistachio’s, mainly to ship to Asia for big profits, and a huge amount of feed, also shipped to Asia. The Valley could easily be the American food basket with half the water they grab today and could actually then restore the Delta and provide clean water for the communities in the North that require a clean and healthy Delta for their drinking water, instead of allowing saltwater to intrude. One might conclude that the San Joaquin farmers are driven by profits, not what food is needed on California’s tables. We’re finding an increasing number of types of produce arriving from Mexico and Costa Rica now in our Delta grocery stores, as the acreage of almonds continues to expand, as it did even during the 2011 to 2015 drought years.

Also, the San Joaquin Valley is NOT the only region on the planet that has class one fertile soils and ideal climate. The farmlands on Delta islands and surrounding lands are actually the most fertile, comprised of rich peat soil. The famous Brentwood white-corn, tomatoes, fruit, and vegetables abound. Delta farms are surrounded by the water they need. All of the Delta Islands, Contra Costa County’s farms, etc., are irrigated by pumping water out of the Delta and then the runoff returns to the Delta to support fish migrating to the ocean. Yet it is these farms the San Joaquin exporters are trying to get rid of. And the expanding almond orchards include farming on the tainted, selenium-laced desert lands near I-5, the Westlands district. These farms should be retired.

It is correct that, unlike the Delta farmlands, what is missing from the San Joaquin Valley is water. Once there was more than enough water – the Tulare Lake – larger than the Great Salt Lake in area. But the early cotton farmers dried it up. Tulare was also the natural percolation pond for the Valley’s groundwater table. Valley farmers have created their own water problem. They need to look for ways to balance their need with available water while reducing reliance on the Delta.

During this pandemic, the narrowly-focused view to rush a new Delta tunnel is forging ahead, even while the Delta Stakeholders have complained that with the COVID-19 rampant, now is not the time to ask communities in the North to try to defend themselves from this destructive project. Instead, now should be the time to focus on groundwater recharge, desalination, recycling, conservation to improve regional self-reliance. And we could use a plan to insure they deliver the food that America needs and not just the most profitable crop.

1 Response to “During the Pandemic, Westlands Lobbies for More Delta Water”

  1. 1 Daniel Whaley April 26, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    Great job. Good summation. Time to walk out on SEC. It was disingenuous from the start and we told them so.

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