Westlands Water District's predations against water used by others continue, perversely, and a big water bill in Congress tied to a defense-spending package could be another successful grab by the Colossus of Alkali Flats. Westlands will take cover wherever it's available, even wrapping itself in the same Stars and Stripes that covers the caskets of soldiers killed in wars in countries their relatives would have a hard time finding on a map.
But in this battle they are up against Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, formerly a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council and one of the lead attorneys on NRDC vs. Rodgers, which resulted in water flowing in the San Joaquin River across the Valley for the first time in 55 years for the benefit of fish. (1)
Westlands is up against a formidable tribe, the Hoopas, and commercial salmon fisherman of the Pacific Coast, determined to protect the salmon of the Trinity River from the legal depredations of Lawyer Birmingham of Westlands and his band of greedy corporate farmers in the largest, least populated irrigation district in the Land.
Hoopa Valley Tribe, Huffman decry Westlands Water District settlement
By Will Houston
Tribes, fishermen and a North Coast congressman are decrying an effort by Congress to pass a settlement agreement that they say would give away Trinity River water to Central Valley water suppliers without considering local environmental effects.
H.R. 1769, known as the San Luis Drainage Settlement Act, would approve the Westlands Drainage Settlement that was struck by the U.S. Department of Justice and Westlands Water District in September 2015. The agreement would relieve the government from financial obligations and liability for draining agricultural lands in the water district’s service area, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
California 2nd District Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) said Friday he strongly opposes the proposal to add the settlement agreement to a national defense act — known as the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 — as part of what he called a last minute “secretive, must-pass bill.”
“It would grant the Westlands Water District a very privileged new water contract basically promising them more water than we can reliably deliver to them,” Huffman previously said to the Times-Standard about the bill. “That’s going to come out of the Trinity River and it would forgive hundreds of millions of dollars they owe the government for building out the project. It’s a huge giveaway for these huge powerful, very wealthy interests in the San Joaquin Valley.”
The Hoopa Valley Tribe’s Chairman Ryan Jackson denounced the bill, claiming that it violates limits set by Congress in the 1950s on how much Trinity Water could be diverted to Central Valley irrigators.
A 1955 law passed by Congress established the series of dams and reservoirs along the Trinity River to be used to store and deliver water to the Central Valley, collectively called the Central Valley Project Trinity River Division. A provision in this law states that Trinity River Division water can only be diverted to the Central Valley if there is enough water to protect Trinity River fish.
“Those limits are intended to ensure that water needed by the Trinity Basin communities and Indian reservations would not be taken from the Trinity River Basin to the Central Valley,” Jackson wrote in a statement this week. “The San Luis Unit contractors have waged a decades-long war against our water rights to Trinity River Division water supplies. Today, San Luis Unit contractors have two pending cases in federal courts against the United States and the Tribe about the allocation of Trinity River Division water. Neither of those cases would be settled by this legislation.”
Westlands Water District has repeatedly challenged the federal government’s dam water releases on the Trinity River that were used to prevent fish kills on the lower Klamath River in 2014 and 2015.
“Officials in the Department of Interior have knowingly and willfully disregarded the rights of the Hoopa Valley Tribe and California’s North Coast communities in negotiating the San Luis Unit settlement,” Jackson said. “We request that Congress disapprove H.R. 1769 in its present form and instead be guided by Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s admonition the ‘great nations, like great men, should keep their word.’”
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, which represents commercial fishermen from San Diego to Alaska, states the bill will forgive Westlands for $350 million it owes the federal government for infrastructure built for the district’s operations.
“H.R. 1769 includes a litany of gifts for Westlands, with no commensurate benefit for the public,” a statement from the federation read. “Instead, the bill promises fiscal irresponsibility and peril for fish, waterfowl, and the California environment in general. It’s an outrageous giveaway to corporate agribusiness that fails to solve the underlying drainage problem.”
(1) Craig Noble, NRDC press release, July 29, 2005. https://www.nrdc.org/media/2005/050729