Issue Turns Up Heat On Federal Agency
The explosive issue of water is on the verge of
sparking a major battle between Westside growers and the federal Bureau of
The issue involves Central Valley Project
“rescheduled” water that growers banked in San Luis Reservoir during wet years
for use during dry years.
|Water flows through the California aqueduct near Kettleman City. |
(Sentinel file photo)
Severe drought is prompting farmers to ask the
Bureau to release the water from what’s left in the shrunken pool of San Luis
Reservoir. Farmers built up the reserve by adopting conservation techniques
such as drip irrigation systems.
The Bureau’s response is that it is discussing the
possibility that farmers might not get it due to competing demands from a
variety of other sources, including homes, businesses and the environment.
“If we don’t receive any [additional]
precipitation, the water in the system is what we have to work with,” said
Bureau spokesman Louis Moore. “We’re
concerned with managing the system to meet all the demands that would be
required of us.”
Moore declined to specify exactly where else the
precious wet stuff might end up.
Irate Westside farmers say they have already paid
for the water, were counting on it and were basing financial decisions on the
assumption that they’d be able to access it.
“This would be the greatest heist of personal
property ever perpetrated,” said grower Ted
Sheely, who has 10,000 acres of cropland. “That is water I paid for. I’m
really upset they’re even thinking about taking that water.”
Sheely said that the loss of the water would force
him to fallow an additional 500 acres on top of the 2,000 he was planning to
Westlands Water District officials were
tight-lipped, citing ongoing negotiations with the Bureau over the controversy.
“Currently, we’re in discussions with the [Bureau]
and other interested parties with this important issue,” said Westlands
spokeswoman Gayle Holman. “At this
point, it’s our hope that this issue will be resolved in a couple of days.”
The angry reaction is getting the attention of
elected officials across the board. Five lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressmen David Valadao, Devin Nunes, Jim Costa
and Kevin McCarthy, fired off a
letter Sunday asking for more clarity on the Bureau’s policy.
“While we recognize the incredibly dry conditions
facing many CVP contractors, we strongly oppose the reallocation of any
rescheduled water for any use other than its originally intended purpose as a
reserve supply secured by contractors in anticipation of ongoing drought
conditions,” the letter states. “We respectfully request that the Bureau
provide clear guidance ... within the next week which provides assurances to
those contractors due rescheduled water that those supplies will be fully
available to them.”
A separate, Republican-only letter from Valadao, Nunes and McCarthy
threatened a congressional investigation.
The bipartisan letter said growers “have spent
approximately $150 million on water transfers in order to preserve an estimated
340,000 acre-feet of project water in San Luis Reservoir” as a drought reserve.
If every one of those growers called in their
banked water, it would more than empty the 334,000 acre-feet that sit in the
A similar issue cropped up in the last major
drought of 2007-2009, but the situation was less dire. The last 13 months have
been the driest in recorded California history.
San Luis Reservoir is at 31 percent capacity — less
than half of what it was at this time last year. Growers are expecting a 0
percent allocation from the CVP when the Bureau announces its allocation in
The decision the Bureau makes on rescheduled water
is threatening to toss a Molotov cocktail into an already dicey situation.
“It’s going to be a big battle,” said Kings County
Supervisor Joe Neves.
Labels: California Ag News, FARMERS IRATE OVER POSSIBLE LOSS OF BANKED WATER, Westside Issue Turns Up Heat On Federal Agency