Report Says Pacts Give More Water to Farmers

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fresno Bee, Mark Grossi

Published March 17, 2005

The federal government is promising 43% more water for California farmers in new irrigation contracts, meaning new dams would have to be built in the next two decades, a new environmental report warns.

Farmers in the Central Valley Project would receive 1.5 million acre-feet of additional water in 25-year federal agreements now being completed, the report says. The Environmental Working Group in Oakland is releasing the report today.

Federal and farm officials called the report absurd. The new contract

allotments are the same as previous contracts - no additional water is being offered, officials said.

In any event, the government does not promise full delivery, said spokesman Jeff McCracken of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, owner of the Central Valley Project. Drought and environmental restoration demands have consistently cut back contracted deliveries in the past, he said.

"This group has a history of statistical distortion," McCracken said,

referring to the Environmental Working Group.

Bill Walker, vice president for the group's West Coast office, said the

numbers come from the contracts for the project, the state's largest water delivery system. The Central Valley Project delivers billions of gallons of water to millions of farmland acres statewide.

Walker agreed the bureau in the past often has delivered less than current contracts specify. He said now is the time to adjust the new contract numbers downward, so farmers don't wind up with excess water to sell for windfall profits over the next 25 years.

"They need to reflect reality," Walker said. "It's time to stop this process and promise the amount of water that can be delivered."

He cited the example of Westlands Water District in west Fresno and Kings counties, the largest contractor in the project. Westlands' contract is for 1.15 million acre-feet annually, but the district received an average of about 755,000 acre-feet from 1990 to 2003, he said.

An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons or an 18-month supply for a family of four.

Walker said Westlands is still being promised 1.15 million acre-feet in new contracts.

"This is happening even though Westlands is retiring land and farming less acreage," he said. "We need to comply with federal law and do an

environmental study on this extra water they're getting."

Westlands spokesman Tupper Hull said the environmental group misunderstands the use of farm water. The 560,000-acre district is downsizing, he said, but the full federal allotment would still be needed even for a smaller district of 460,000 acres.

With 1.15 million acre-feet, Westlands would have about 2.5 acre-feet per acre for 460,000 acres. That's a bare minimum amount of water by California standards, Hull said.

"Just do the simple math," he said. "They know this report of theirs is pure bunk."


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