In response to California Governor Gavin Newsom’s expansion of the drought emergency to include the Central Valley, Tom Birmingham, Westlands Water District general manager, issued the following statement:
“The realities of a changing climate mean California must prepare for longer, hotter droughts that can only be effectively mitigated through collaborative approaches that focuses equally on our state’s economic and environmental sustainability. We applaud Governor Newsom’s action to mitigate the impacts of a second year of drought in the Central Valley, which has already manifested itself in fallowed fields and lost jobs due to lack of water. In particular, his move to streamline water transfers and provide $200 million in funding for critical water infrastructure repairs as outlined in Senator Hurtado’s Senate Bill 559 will both help local communities manage drought impacts in the short term and improve drought resiliency by maximizing the beneficial use of every drop of water in the long term. Westlands appreciates the leadership of both Governor Newsom and Senator Hurtado in championing these critical water infrastructure repair investments, and we look forward to continuing to work with local, state and federal leaders to develop collaborative, holistic solutions to more effectively address the impacts of drought on our most vulnerable communities.”
Subsidence has caused the Central Valley Project canals, which carry water to Westlands and other water agencies, to lose up to 30% of their conveyance capacity over time. This lost conveyance capacity results in less water available at higher costs for farms, communities, and wildlife. Westlands is among a broad coalition of water agencies supporting supporting Senate Bill 559 (Hurtado), S. 1179 (Feinstein) and H.R. 2552 (Costa) companion state and federal legislation designed to address this issue. Governor Newsom’s commitment of $200 million represents approximately one quarter of the state funding outlined in SB 559.
The immediate challenge facing State agencies that are responsible for ensuring competing demands are met is achieving a reasonable balance among all competing beneficial uses. The State agencies must consider all demands being made on the limited water supplies available and the values involved with the beneficial uses of water – including economic and social values. Governor Newsom’s drought emergency declaration will provide State agencies with the tools needed to achieve that balance, and it is Westlands’ hope that water needs of people and the economy will not be made subordinate to the needs of the environment.
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.
Earlier this year, Westlands urged Governor Newsom to help mitigate the impacts of a 5% water allocation from the Central Valley Project, which is currently not available for delivery. Over the last 10 years, Westlands and other South-of-Delta agricultural service and water repayments contractors have received a 100% allocation of water only once and have received a 0% allocation two times.