Sweethearts of San Luis renew their vows

Submitted: Sep 16, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

It's not really a divorce... 

 

The Westlands Water District, which provides water to the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. This region is an area of polluted quick sand which devours other peoples' water, law and political representatives from the local to the federal levels, in fact devours everything but the fortunes of a plutocracy of several hundred growers.

Ordinarily we would have prefaced the newspaper account of this latest secret deal-made public between Westlands and the federal government, but there appeared such an eloquent letter in opposition from retired US Fish & Wildlife biologist, Felix Smith, that it outranked the Fresno Bee piece. The latter was a boiled over wire-service story no one was willing to sign. To give an idea of who Smith is, we prefaced his letter with a moment in his biography.

We hope you do not enjoy the following. -- blj

 

 

Copyright (c) 1996 San Joaquin College of Law
San Joaquin Agricultural Law Review

ARTICLE: THE KESTERSON EFFECT: REASONABLE USE OF WATER AND THE PUBLIC TRUST

1996

6 S.J. Agric. L. Rev. 45

Author

Felix E. Smith *

https://litigation-essentials.lexisnexis.com/webcd/app?action=DocumentDisplay&crawlid=1&doctype=cite&docid=6+S.J.+Agric.+L.+Rev.+45&srctype=smi&srcid=3B15&key=e21a503cfe925d82ccaeceaa80eabe2d

Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

In 1983, I held in my hand the first deformed American coot hatchling found at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge, a critical Pacific Flyway wintering ground for migratory ducks and shorebirds in Merced County in the western San Joaquin Valley. I was a United States Fish and Wildlife Service biologist and along with my colleague, Dr. Harry Ohlendorf, I was investigating why the Kesterson marshes had gone silent.

The cause of the grotesque mutations found in the Kesterson birds -- corkscrewed beaks, missing eyes and shriveled limbs uneasily reminiscent of the 1950's Thalidomide deformities in humans -- was food chain poisoning triggered by agricultural waste water from western San Joaquin Valley fields laced with the trace element selenium. The volcano-generated selenium, eroded from the ancient seabed material of the Coast Range mountains, had been harmlessly dispersed through the western valley soils over eons by geochemical and hydrological processes. Selenium, and other trace elements and metals in the alluvial fan soils, were mobilized into a soluble form by flood irrigation methods in the Westlands Water District of western Fresno County. The shallow groundwater was then pumped from the waterlogged lands and the drainage was funnelled to Kesterson via the San Luis Drain, an 82-mile cement-lined canal.

Legally, Kesterson was a "dual use" federal facility. The United States Bureau of Reclamation, an Interior Department agency, had paramount authority to operate the Kesterson ponds to store and evaporate drainage water until a drainage canal to the Delta ...

 

 

September 15, 2015

Felix Smith letter

 

 

 

Honorable Member of Congress

Senator Dianne Feinstein  

Senator Barbara Boxer

Congressman John Garamendi

Congressman Ami Bera 

Congressman Jerry McNerney

Congressman Jared Huffman 

Washington, D.C.                                                                                         

                                                                                                                                                  Via e-mail

Dear Honorable Senator Feinstein

 

 

 

                Subject: Bureau and Westlands WD Settlement Agreement

 

       A little history is needed about other government give-a-ways.  Governor “Pat” Brown in the 1950s gave away the San Joaquin River to the Bureau of Reclamation so it could deliver water to his political farmer friends.  As Attorney General Pat Brown and some attorney friends formulated a bogus legal opinion to support his desires.  Upon becoming Governor, Pat Brown quickly appointed his own friends to the State Water Board.  In 1959, the Water Board delivered a 2,210,000 acre-feet of the San Joaquin River as a water right to the Bureau of Reclamation.  Governor Pat Brown told those who opposed his action including State agencies to “shut up”.  The San Joaquin River was soon dry. There was no water for the San Joaquin River's Chinook salmon run and other public trust  resources, uses and values.  The State lead by Governor Brown knowingly violated its own Public Trust duties and responsibilities.   Private non-profit monies were used 50 years later through lawsuits to make right a terrible wrong of over 60 years ago. 

 

       The Bureau of Reclamation constructed the Delta – Mendota Canal to deliver Northern California water via the Delta to the exchange contractors who lost their San Joaquin River water and water rights when Friant Dam was constructed for delivery to farms along the Madera- Friant and the Friant - Kern Canals. Those who lost their water to the Bureau of Reclamation receive Northern California water are known as San Joaquin Settlement contractors.  The Delta -Mendota Canal is a heavily subsidized facility.  This water is cheap with the farmers paying only a fraction of the true cost of that water.  There are local farmers and farming corporations waiting to take all the water they could get from Northern California rivers via the Delta.   

 

       It is cheap water that was and is a major problem and has multiple costs. There has been the destruction of Northern California's Chinook salmon and steelhead populations and Delta fisheries.  A farmer can put a lot of cheap water on poor quality ground, add lots of fertilizer and get a crop.  It was the selenium contaminated drainage and waste water from that use that impacted wetlands, poisoning fish and wildlife and their respective habitats on both public and private lands of the San Joaquin Valley.  This also has resulted in the salinization of selected bottom land soils.     

 

       Westlands Water District was formed in 1952 and originally consisted of about 400,000 acres.    In 1965 Westlands WD annexed an additional 200,00 acres.  Westlands leaders urged their local members of Congress to incorporate this 200,000 acres into the San Luis Unit of the CVP.  This land was of poor quality and suffered from known drainage and water quality problems.  This is the same land that was excluded from the original San Luis Act.   The California Department of Water Resources in 1960 reported that the drainage from the Panoche Fan area was of such poor quality, laden with a variety of trace elements and salts so that it would be “unusable for beneficial uses”.  This information was repeated in several State and Federal documents but was ignored.  The stage was now set for what ultimately happened at Kesterson NWR in 1983.  Dead and deformed migratory bird died by the thousands.  This has become known as the “Kesterson Syndrome”.  Bird deaths and deformities have continued, but not to the same degree.  Other evaporation ponds are known to be taking migratory birds.  There is a continuing concern today.  Even with drip irrigation, the runoff during wet years will release hoards of selenium contaminated water / mud to the valley floor to contaminate aquatic ecosystems, wetland habitats, and fish and wildlife resources down stream through the San Joaquin River to the Delta and San Francisco Bay.    

 

       The Great thirst of the western San Joaquin Valley called Westlands Water District is ready and willing to gobble up all of northern California water it can get. The cost may be Northern California's rivers, the loss of the people's unique races of Chinook salmon, coho salmon, steelhead trout all the while poisoning the land, its surface and ground waters as a social cost of Westlands Water District's private / corporate enterprises.  Over the years some of Westlands WD's leadership has moved between the Department of the Interior and back to Westlands.  Westlands have successfully farmed the Congress for millions upon millions of taxpayers dollars.  It is about time that is stopped.  Westlands WD cannot be allowed to jump from the back of the line to the front of the line with sweet heart water deals and special favors.  If that occurs all others contractors receiving Bureau water will get less water (take cuts) so Westlands WD can be served.   In the years leading up to the Bureau taking over California's largest water transfer project, the Bureau continuously stated it was only going to take water considered surplus to Central and Northern California's needs. Central and Northern California no longer has surplus water. That water is needed our area's and Delta agriculture, to protect public trust resources and uses such as Delta fisheries, the winter-run Chinook salmon of the upper Sacramento River, the Chinook salmon or steelhead trout in the Trinity River and the symbolic Delta smelt.        

 

       There must be an open airing of the Bureau - Westlands Settlement.  I also believe that it is now time for the Congress to de-authorize the 200,000 acres annexed to the San Luis Unit - CVP in 1965.  It is time because serving this acreage holds a gun at the Bureau to continue to serve subsidized CVP water to this area.  This area over time has the real potential to bleed selenium leachate and drainage with other trace elements to down slope surface and ground water, impact aquatic ecosystems and fish and wildlife resources held as a public trust.  In 1984 the State Board stated “Failure to take appropriate measures to minimize excess application, excess incidental losses or degradation of water quality constitutes unreasonable use of water”.  This drainage and waste water is a potential hazardous waste.

 

In Summary: There must be an open vetting of the Bureau - Westlands Settlement.

                      Congress must de-authorize the 200,000 acres annexed to the San Luis Unit in 1965.

                      Congress must stop the give-away millions of taxpayers dollars to subsidize                                    Westlands WD.

                      The water and public trust resource needs of areas of origin must be fully protected. 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Felix E. Smith

4720 Talus Way

Carmichael, Ca 95608

 

cc: interested parties

      SARA

      CSPA

      Tom Stokely

       Bill Jennings

 

 

Letter regWestlands WD.doc 

 

9 

9-15-15

Fresno Bee

Westlands Water District, feds ink cleanup deal

Westlands will clean up tainted water, gets its CVP debt forgiven

Deal first revealed last week

Requires approval of Congress

 

 

 

 

Bee Staff and News Services

 

 

 

 

http://www.fresnobee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article35378820.html

 

As expected, Westlands Water District and the federal government on Tuesday agreed to clean up contaminated water, settling a decades-old dispute.

The tentative deal, first revealed last week by members of Congress who were briefed in advance, requires final approval by Congress.

Westlands will clean up water tainted by salt that has accumulated in soil from years of irrigation, general manager Thomas Birmingham said. Federal officials have failed for more than half a century to do the work that the district will undertake, he said.

The Department of the Interior said the deal will save taxpayers $3.5 billion.

Westlands, however, did not say how much it would spend on the cleanup, but district officials said they agreed to fix the problem, whatever it takes.

Critics say the district and the Department of Interior secretly forged the agreement that wipes away large amounts of the district’s debt and potentially gives it greater access to the state’s scarce water supplies amid a record drought.

Responding to critics, Birmingham said that negotiations were done in private but were not secret.

“They feel the need to attack anything that benefits Westlands,” Birmingham said. “Westlands, by doing this, is undertaking significant risks and obligations that we currently don’t have.”

The district supplies irrigation water to 700 farms that grow everything from almonds to tomatoes.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated in 2007 that the cleanup would cost $2.7 billion.

The settlement also relieves Westlands of $350 million owed to taxpayers for its part in building the Central Valley Project, the system of canals that delivers water to providers as far south as San Diego.

It grants Westlands an indefinite water contract, rather than one that has to be renewed every two years. Farmers within the district also no longer will have to limit their farms to 960 acres.

Those terms worry U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, who urged federal officials for more transparency in the settlement. McNerney represents residents along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a major source of Westlands’ water.

He and other members of Congress were briefed Friday on the settlement.

“It’s a sweetheart deal,” McNerney said. “There’s a lot of concern about what’s in the agreement.”

The Department of Interior also said it had briefed members of Congress.

McNerney, who expects that Congress will approve the deal, said he is not assured that Westlands will fulfill its obligation to clean up the contaminated water.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, who also was briefed, said the details presented to Congress are old. The settlement affects California’s farming industry and the details of the negotiations are too important to be hidden from view, he said.

“The Department of Interior should be whacked badly for the secrecy in this agreement,” Garamendi said.

The water district agreed to retire at least 20 percent of the 614,000 acres of farmland included in the district, which will limit the amount of federal water it can receive. In the last two years of drought, the district has received no federal water.

Federal officials will withhold water supplies from the district unless Westlands upholds its end of the bargain, Birmingham said. Critics say the deal gives the district priority over other customers that receive federal water, which Birmingham denies.

“That’s the biggest hammer the government could have to ensure Westlands fulfills the obligation,” he said.


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