In response to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) announcement that the initial allocation for South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors is 5%, Tom Birmingham, Westlands general manager, today issued the following statement:
“Today’s announcement is no surprise given current hydrologic conditions and regulations that restrict operations of the Central Valley Project, but it is devastating nonetheless for farmers and communities across the region that rely on water from the CVP and jobs created by irrigated agriculture. It’s also yet another reminder of the urgency behind our continued work with policymakers, regulators and the farming community to maximize water use efficiency, improve climate resilience, and ensure greater water supply reliability now and in the future.”
Westlands is among the South-of-Delta contractors that, together, hold contracts with Reclamation for approximately 3 million acre-feet (977 billion gallons) of water. Over the last 10 years, Westlands and other South-of-Delta agricultural repayment and water service contractors have received a 100% allocation of water only once and have received a 0% allocation two times. On average, these contractors have received less than a 40% allocation of water over the past decade.
Recent studies have shown that reductions in surface water availability in the Central Valley can cause approximately 194,000 acres of land to be taken out of production, more than $1.3 billion in lost crop revenue and thousands of job losses. Lack of surface water also increases reliance on groundwater and can have negative impacts on drinking water availability and quality – particularly in disadvantaged communities.
To maximize water use efficiency, Westlands’ water distribution system is comprised of approximately 1,100 miles of buried pipeline and is outfitted with over 3,000 water meters. Since 2017, Westlands has invested $14.2 million in its water infrastructure system, which measures every drop of water and minimizes losses caused by seepage and evaporation.
“With the announcement of this year’s initial allocation, Westlands remains more committed than ever to ensuring that every drop of water available to the District is put to beneficial use,” Birmingham added. “A 5% allocation, although better than zero, will result in a human and economic disaster for families on the West side of the Valley and could result in major strains for the nation’s food supply. We urge Governor Newsom to move swiftly to mitigate the impacts of today’s announcement and help prevent the disastrous impacts of past droughts by streamlining transfers of available water, immediately reengaging on negotiations of the voluntary agreements and supporting critical water infrastructure investments to help ensure we can continue managing water efficiently, even as we face the consequences of a changing climate.”
Past studies indicate that statewide economic losses as a result of California’s 2014-2016 drought totaled $3.8 billion, with thousands of jobs lost in the Central Valley alone and many rural drinking water wells running dry. Furthermore, parts of the Central Valley Project infrastructure that carry water to Westlands have lost up to 30% of their conveyance capacity over time due to subsidence; combined with higher operational and power costs, this results in millions of dollars in higher costs to convey less water through the system every year. Westlands is among a broad coalition of water agencies supporting both state and federal legislation to address this issue.