The onslaught continues
The onslaught continues:
From the Fresno Bee:
LLOYD G. CARTER: Water contract cash cow for Westlands
(Updated Wednesday, December 1, 2004, 8:50 AM)
The Bush administration will soon complete negotiations on 25-year water delivery contracts for Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin Valley federal irrigation districts that will keep Northern California fisheries struggling and could result in huge windfall profits for districts that choose to resell their irrigation supplies to urban developers. Better yet, the contract contains an automatic 25-year renewal clause when it expires in 2030.
Westlands Water District, the nation's largest federal water district at 600,000 acres, will be the biggest winner as Interior Secretary Gale Norton and her top water aide, Bennett Raley, curry favor with California's agribusiness interests. But all federal water districts are climbing on the band wagon, buying water from the bureau at $14 to $44 an acre-foot, which could be sold on the retail market for $250 to $750 an acre-foot.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is seeking to complete the contract negotiations for 5 million to 7 million acre-feet of water, which could boost Delta exports by up to 25% when coupled with state water project demands.
Congressional critics from Northern California, angry at what they consider a long-term giveaway of too much of their area's rivers, have asked Secretary Norton to slow down the contract talks until the environmental review process is completed. Major environmental groups are threatening to sue. Trinity County Indians, hoping to at long last restore the decimated salmon runs on the Trinity River, are outraged.
Westlands is being offered a chance to renew its annual allotment of 1.15 million acre-feet of water per year, an amount it first negotiated back in the 1960s. A million acre-feet will meet the annual domestic needs of 10 million people. Oddly, the request for the full allotment is happening while Westlands is steadily downsizing: about 100,000 acres taken out of production by the end of this year, and another 100,000 acres idled before the 25-year contract period would end, all because of its continuing and economically unsolvable drainage problems on marginal lands.
A smaller, leaner district would be free to meet in-district demands and still resell a portion of its irrigation supplies in full allotment years to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (or developers) at five to 20 times what the district paid for the water. A nice return on investment.
This would be occurring in a district that last year planted nearly 40% of its irrigable acreage to cotton, a crop that is heavily subsidized by U.S. taxpayers and has been heavily criticized by such conservative think tanks as The Heritage Foundation.
Equally troubling is contract language regarding Westlands' intractable drainage problems, which threaten to salt up tens of thousands of acres. Much of Westlands' soil is adulterated with selenium, a trace element that can trigger wildlife deformities when it is dissolved by irrigation and gets into the food chain.
The draft contract for the Westlands briefly states that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal has ruled the original 1960 legislation authorizing federal water delivery to the western Valley imposes a duty on the secretary of interior to "provide drainage service."
There is an "Alice in Wonderland" quality to this contract language. Everybody involved, from bureau officials, to water district directors to involved water lawyers knows Congress won't provide hundreds of millions of dollars to fund drainage plumbing for just a few hundred growers. They also know Bay Area interests or the State Water Resources Control Board will never permit a drainage ditch to Monterey Bay or the Delta.
To add fuel to the contract fire, the Bureau of Reclamation is releasing a multi-pronged proposed drainage proposal for Westlands that involves, amazingly, building more evaporation ponds like the ones that killed birds at the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge 20 years ago. Federal scientists have been pointing out since the Kesterson fiasco that the cheapest solution is to simply retire all the high selenium lands from farming, a suggestion mentioned in the drainage plan but far down the priority list. If that was done, of course, it would be hard to justify giving more than 1 million acre-feet of water to Westlands every year.
Whether the 40-year-old drainage crisis is solved or not, the new water delivery contracts will guarantee that Westlands and other federal irrigation districts can convert Northern California's rivers into their newest cash crop, for sale to the highest bidder in California's mushrooming urban areas.
If the contracts are approved as expected, the north's rivers will continue to flow uphill to western San Joaquin Valley agribusiness and then to Southern California developers for another 50 years.
Bush bashing seems to be on the upswing lately. Especially by those of the other side. And while the Bush administration is not known to be paticularily enirionmentaly friendly, I for one, would rather fight Mr. Bush on envirionmental issues than fight someone else on some of the other issues that are dear to me.
And, after all, this is California we are talking about here. What else would you expect? Hellooooo. As an ex-resident of forty years in that state, this kind of stuff comes as no surprise to me. And it wouldn't matter who was Gov. Even Jerry Brown would go along with the powerful agriculture and land development lobbies. They don't call it the golden state for nothing.
Ca. senators Boxer & Feinstein have for years claimed to be protectors of the envirionment. It's time for them to pay their dues.
I fish because the voices in my head tell me to
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