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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:

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by Dave Simmons
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 8:26 AM
Natural occurring elements are not sewage!!! But it is ok to dump 1 billion gallons of sewage pollution in the delta every single day??? You are a huge hypocrite! It is very clear you hate south of the delta farmers more than you like the fish swimming in the delta.
by .
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 11:16 AM
Here's the problem. Most Californians or US residents would love to support farmers growing their food, if that is what was actually happening with their crop subsidies, and water infrastructure subsidies.

However, most of the crop subsidies go to grains and cotton that use disproportionate amounts of water, given local availability, and are shipped internationally. The international buyer doesn't feel the harmful externality cost of paying for this $10billion aquaduct, and moreover, the profit goes to a few owners rather than farm workers and this subsidy crushes foreign rice markets. Haiti would be a great example, because it used to feed itself until a trade deal in the 90s forced them to accept imports. Rice uses a very high amount of water, and Californians would democratically desire that their crop subsidies go towards vegetables, fruits/nuts and other locally consumed items.
by Mark
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 12:12 PM
Truly bringing concepts such as farm subsidies, international trade, etc into the fray further complicates this discussion, but I will throw in a few ideas below. The point to keep in mind though is that water is being taken from farms throughout the state, not just WWD, without any reasonable justification. There is no science backing up the enviro claims. Farm water users are being blamed for population declines of species that are being impacted by a variety of causes - invasive wildlife, pollution, etc. Whether or not farmers get subsidies or which crops they choose to grow, no one benefits from reducing surface water deliveries to farmers - including fish. Ultimately every one will pay more for their food. What is most alarming is that, just like standard leftist media spin, the coverage of these issues is so uninformed and biased - just like the article we just read.

The government has, over the last handful of decades, implemented water supply/flood management programs as well as farm subsidies. This has occurred all across the US. So, indirectly, Californians and US residents, through their elected representatives, have collectively made the decision to send water and cash to areas of the country, such as WWD, so that crops that are core to the country's strategic needs - grain, cotton - are grown and made available locally or internationally. More recently, as the cost of water has increased and availability decreased, cotton is essentially no longer grown in WWD, and the same can be said of most of the state - with the exception of areas where water is cheap, plentiful and not subject to enviro-regulation. Think Boswell. Grain is grown because it can actually be cultivated, in part, with natural rain fall - what a blessing. Farmers eek out a very small profit growing grains. That same water is now used to grow high dollar crops such as almonds, pistachios, tomatoes, etc. So...I'm not sure why you say above that the subsidies and water infrasture (if we were allowed to use it) isn't being used to produce food for americans. Have you had almonds, pistachios or ketchup in the last 20 years?

International trade is part of an efficient capitalistic, global world. The fact is though, we cannot compete on a global level with many grain and cotton producers - they have cheap labor, land and inputs. They can farm without concern for externalities they create - pollution of land, air and water. The price of cotton is too low for a California grower to make money - subsidies help keep them in business, employing people at 100 times the wages of someone in Brazil or China. Pima cotton may be an exception to that notion, but again with the cost of water where it is, it is hardly even grown anymore.

Wouldn't you say that it is in the best interest of the country to maintain a base of agriucultural production for commodities that are essential to basic food and fiber supply management? Think major droughts and scarcity of grain, corn, cotton in international markets. These items are essentially non-perishable and core to the food supply, including feed for livestock.

"...Californians would democratically desire that their crop subsidies go towards vegetables, fruits/nuts and other locally consumed items." Subsidies keep farmers in business so they can grow a variety or crops, including vegis, fruits, nuts, etc.

Anyway, this has gone on way too long and off subject. Anyone who reads this should know that the propoganda and agenda being pushed by so called environmental groups has allowed them successfully hijack the states most valuable resource, water. It is now going out to sea, under the Golden Gate bridge. Forget about jobs, farms ,food, families, send the water out to sea for the supposed benefit of killer whales ... !? Around 57,000 AF is going out to sea every day, while state and federal users are only allowed to pull out around 13,000 AF from the delta. Which could be reduced to zero at any time, should a couple useless fish swim in the wrong area...
What a tradgedy.
by Joe
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 2:40 PM
"As Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe said...." The Indians, nice source. HAHA What a fucking idiot.
by Dan
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 4:43 PM
As a taxpayer, I'm tired of subsidizing private business. Corporate farmers aren't too big to fail.
by (*)
Wednesday Mar 3rd, 2010 4:46 PM
"So...I'm not sure why you say above that the subsidies and water infrasture (if we were allowed to use it) isn't being used to produce food for americans."

I'm most familiar with an area of Yolo county where a few friends have actually tried to start farming (barley, eggs). The infrastructure costs of land, road, tools and improvements are so great that hardly any young person can fathom this (even though land is much cheaper than anything in the city), because the profit margin of any new crop is so low. All of them have second jobs. As they showed me around their area, they explained how most of the neighbors have rice fields with long term crop subsidies, and that farmers in other areas aren't eligible for thi. Last year, the water supply was cut off or made more expensive, so these fields remained fallow (the dairy neighbors were watering). - so he was presenting a case of the tables being slanted against new startups or people who want to go the organic or farmer's market route - yet paradoxically, the highest value crop a new entry farmer could probably conceive of would be organics (rather than planting tomatoes or something to be sold to a large processor).
by Mark
Thursday Mar 4th, 2010 10:00 AM
It is hard for a startup to make it in any business. It is prohibitively expensive for most people to try and go out and purchase and farm any property of significant size. Isn't that another argument for keeping efficient existing farmers in business? But, subsidies aren't set up to go against a start up entity, and the amount of subsidies you are eligible for is tied to the production history of the land itself. You can't get subsidies for farming organic brussel sprouts - but if you consider that to be a crop you can make money at - more than likely the entrpreneur would just believe in the value of this clean, healthy food source - then go ahead and grow it, sell to a farmers market, whatever.

No one is getting rich off of government subsidies. And no, large farming operations are not too big to fail... and many of them will as the result of large scale water theft by useless enviro groups. I still don't understand why people WANT California agriculture to go away?
by C-gull
Friday Mar 12th, 2010 8:44 PM
30 years ago there was an idea afloat to pump agricultural waste water south over the Temblor range and out into the Carrizo Plain. Out of sight, out of mind. The state department of agriculture and others could not figure out how to pay for the giant electric bill to pump water that far, as well as defend the gross negative impacts to endangered species. Species that used to exist in the San Joaquin valley that were axed by agricultural development. Corporate farmers are not heros-they cannot even feed local areas let alone the world. Witness all the produce that now comes from New Zealand, Australia, South American, China etc. at high costs. The food crisis is here not because some people want clean air, water and an uncontaminated environment- it's here because agriculture was allowed to go corporate, gobble up small farms, and become the monster it is today.

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