Statement from Thomas Birmingham Regarding
August 21, 2009
There has been some confusion created by an irresponsible
and misleading claim by the California Sportfishing
Protection Alliance that it has "discovered" that
Westlands Water District has been "hording [sic] surplus
water it can't use."
At the end of the 2008 water year, Westlands had
approximately 300,000 acre-feet of water which CalSPA
claims was hoarded. The reality is that this is water
that Westlands carried over in storage in anticipation of
a low allocation from the Bureau of Reclamation. Had
Westlands not planned for this contingency, its farmers
would have started the 2009 water year with zero surface
water for the irrigation of crops because Reclamation gave
Westlands and other south-of-Delta Central Valley Project
irrigation service contractors a zero percent allocation.
Ultimately, Westlands received a ten percent of its
allocation of contract water supplies from the Central
Valley Project, the most severe cutback in the project's
history. Many of our family farmers have only managed to
survive this year by pumping groundwater at rates that
cannot be sustained. But even so, more than 260,000 acres
of productive farmland had to be fallowed, leading to the
loss of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars for the
economy of the Westside.
As we look ahead to 2010, Westlands estimates that it will
be carrying over an estimated 270,000 acre feet of water
that has been rescheduled for delivery from the federal
project in the coming year. There is nothing secretive
about this fact. Westlands publishes notices of the
condition of our water supplies every month on our
website, and that includes rescheduled water as well as
all of our other water resources. The website also
provides charts, schedules and other graphic materials
that trace the use and availability of these supplies
month by month. Information on rescheduled water has also
been included in periodic public meetings attended by
growers and the media, and public concerns about the
protection of those supplies were the subject of
widespread news coverage last March. Reclamation
separately maintains and publishes comprehensive records
of rescheduled water supplies which are included in that
agency's various reports and statistical studies.
Where is this water? It is not being held in storage. It
is in fact only a promise of future delivery. If these
extreme water shortages continue or the demands of other
water rights holders take precedence, that water may not
be available when a farmer needs it. But this promise of
delivery is nonetheless an asset that farmers can take to
the bank as proof that they have a reasonable expectation
of having water available to grow their crops next year.
And that is critically important for staying in business.
The process of securing financing for next year's planting
is beginning now, as this year's reduced harvest is just
being brought in. Without this rescheduled water, many
farmers would be unable to secure the funds they need to
plant a crop for next year. And thus, the catastrophe that
the Westside has suffered this year would get even worse.
Why didn't the farmers use all of this water up in 2009?
There are lots of reasons. The allocated water did not
become available until most cropping decisions had already
been made, and even then, there was some uncertainty about
its delivery. Also, faced with severe shortages, many
farmers elected to apply groundwater for the crops that
could survive on it, while protecting higher quality
surface supplies for other produce.
This is the way every responsible water agency manages its
supplies in times of shortage. We all report how much
water we have to use and what we are holding in reserve.
We conserve wherever we can. If we had nothing in reserve,
our consumers would begin next year with no water at all.
That would be irresponsible. But no one suggests that the
water in Shasta Lake is being hoarded or that the
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is
doing the wrong thing when it orders a cutback in
deliveries to 20 million people even though it has water
in its reservoirs. Westlands is no different.