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Groups Blast Westlands Attempt to Use Aqueduct As Sewer
by Dan Bacher
Tuesday Mar 2nd, 2010 7:18 PM
In the latest surrealistic episode in the California water wars, Westlands Water District, the "Darth Vader" of California water politics, is now seeking a permit to pollute the drinking water supply for millions of Californians, according to a coalition of environmental, fishing and tribal groups.

Photo of the California Aqueduct courtesy of Aquafornia (
Groups Blast Westlands Attempt to Use Aqueduct as Sewer

by Dan Bacher

Every time that you think that corporate agribusiness can't stoop any lower than they have already in their campaign to destroy imperiled fish populations and fishing jobs, they always manage to reach a new low in their race to the bottom.

In the latest surrealistic episode in the California water wars, Westlands Water District, the "Darth Vader" of California water politics, is now seeking a permit to pollute the drinking water supply for millions of Californians, according to a coalition of environmental, fishing and tribal groups.

"Westlands has proposed a project to discharge up to 100,000 acre feet of groundwater into the State Water Project California Aqueduct, a drinking water supply for approximately 20 million people," revealed Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.

The CSPA and other organizations on March 2 submitted comments regarding Westlands' proposed discharge and conveyance of polluted groundwater into and through the California Aqueduct of the State Water Project. The organizations submitting the comments include the California Water Impact Network, Sierra Club, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA), AquAlliance, Restore the Delta, Planning and Conservation League, Friends of the River, Southern California Watershed Alliance, Salmon Water Now, Crab Board Owners Association, Winnemen Wintu Tribe, Save the American River Association, Southern California Watershed Alliance and North Coast Rivers Alliance.

"Westland's groundwater is highly contaminated with selenium, boron, and salts," said Jennings. "The California Aqueduct is a water of the nation and supplies drinking water to more than 20 million people in Southern California. The aqueduct also has identified recreation and wildlife habitat beneficial uses and its waters supply reservoirs and streams that support significant fisheries habitat."

Jennings accused Westlands of "essentially attempting to dilute polluted wastes, created by irrigating impaired soils, with relatively good quality aqueduct water."

The coalition letter raises numerous issues, including the fact that the project would require Clean Water Act discharge permits and that the Department of Water Resources and not Westlands is the proper lead agency to prepare the EIR under the California Environmental Quality Act.

The groups said the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) for the project should include evaluation of the proposed action’s impact on the following:

1. The SWP water supplies caused by the introduction of degraded groundwater into the California Aqueduct.

2. The variability over time and among wells in the quality of ground water, and changing impacts on the California Aqueduct over time.

3. The quantitative assessment on California’s water supply, including increased treatment costs and public health costs, due to increases in selenium, salts, boron and other contaminants that will persist during the twenty five year term of the proposed action.

4. Subsidence impacts to the aqueduct from pumping up to 100,000 acre feet annually.

5. The bioaccumulation of contaminants in the sediments of the aqueduct.

6. The precedent-setting significance of degrading the quality of water in the California Aqueduct.

"This proposed action of allowing up to 100,000 acre feet of groundwater to be discharged into the California Aqueduct annually will export pollution costs from Westlands to other water districts or drinking-water suppliers and result in a direct public health risk," according to the groups. "Assurances that the groundwater quality does not exceed drinking water standards will not adequately protect public health because many contaminants, such as the most commonly used pesticides in the area, do not have drinking water standards. Nor are many of the pesticide contaminants even monitored. These risks and a full environmental impact analysis need to be included in this environmental analysis."

This underhanded attempt by Westlands to discharge tainted water into the aqueduct takes place as Westlands, agribusiness tycoons Stewart and Lynda Resnick of Paramount Farms, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein have launched an unprecedented war against salmon fishermen, Delta farmers, California Indian Tribes and Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations.

The most recent battle in this war took place over the past few weeks when Feinstein, the "Patron Saint" of corporate agribusiness, sponsored an amendment to bypass Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for Delta smelt, Sacramento River chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and the southern resident population of killer whales in order to increase Delta water pumping. Fortunately, a successful campaign by environmentalists, tribes, fishermen and Delta residents - and a better water supply outlook - forced Feinstein to withdraw her amendment for the time being.

"We are deeply grateful to Senator Dianne Feinstein and to Congressmen Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza for their diligent and persistent efforts to secure this relief for our communities," said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, after the Bureau of Reclamation issued its press release on Central Valley Project water supplies on February 26. "Their continued attention to these critical issues will be required in the days and months ahead to ensure that everything that can be done is being done."

As Feinstein was launching her attack on salmon and salmon fishermen, the North Coast Rivers Alliance, Friends of the River, Save the American River and Winnemem Wintu Tribe filed a suit in Fresno Superior Court on February 8 demanding "full public disclosure" of the impacts of backroom contract renewals that are being quietly negotiated between Westlands and the Bureau of Reclamation. The groups want a full environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) of the pollution and potential harm that "locking in" such massive water exports from the Delta estuary would cause to waterfowl and shorebirds along the Pacific Flyway and collapsing Central Valley salmon and Delta fish populations

Feinstein, Schwarzenegger, agribusiness and their "environmental" collaborators such as the Nature Conservancy are also sabotaging efforts to restore the Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, by pushing plans to build a peripheral canal and new dams. The canal/tunnel fiasco would cost the state $23 billion to $53.8 billion, indebting generations of future Californians. The peripheral canal, if constructed, is also likely to result in the extinction of Sacramento River salmon and Delta fish populations, as well as the destruction of thousands of jobs in the recreational and commercial fishing industries.

As Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe, said, "The peripheral canal is a big, stupid idea that doesn’t make any sense from a tribal environmental perspective. Building a canal to save the Delta is like a doctor inserting an arterial bypass from your shoulder to your hand– it will cause your elbow to die just like taking water out of the Delta through a peripheral canal will cause the Delta to die."

To read the scoping comments, go to:

For an excellent analysis of how Westlands Water District profits off institutionalized poverty on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, read Lloyd Carter's Reaping Riches in a Wretched Region, Subsidized Industrial Farming and Its Link to Perpetual Poverty:

For more information and action alerts, go to:
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Corporations are not HerosC-gullFriday Mar 12th, 2010 8:44 PM
Another responseMarkThursday Mar 4th, 2010 10:00 AM
grains(*)Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 4:46 PM
Fed UpDanWednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 4:43 PM
unbelievable.JoeWednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 2:40 PM
ResponseMarkWednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 12:12 PM
People are growing your food right here is WWD.Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 11:16 AM
More propaganda from DanDave SimmonsWednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 8:26 AM

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