The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting at its Fresno headquarters on Tuesday, November 19, 2019. Chairman Don Peracchi called the meeting to order at 1:00pm. After the usual housekeeping WWD General Manager Tom Birmingham’s report was first. Tom Boardman gave the water forecast and said without the November rains and the fall X2 line San Luis Reservoir’s federal side may be 250,000 a/f shy of full by the beginning of the season. Almost all the other reservoirs are full enough to be ready for flood control.

Director Frank Coelho said the district’s metering of wells within the groundwater monitoring project requires a communication tower and the district has to get its own bandwidth approved by the FCC, if I understood correctly. Next Director Todd Neves was nominated to serve as a board member on ACWA. That was backed up by resolution number 122-19. There was an item on the agenda regarding an extension of agreements with Mendota Pool Group pumpers but that was pulled for some other day.

WWD Engineer and SGMA leader Kitty Campbell spoke about the draft GSP for the Westlands WD GSA. She said the management strategy is driven by groundwater levels. The overall picture before the 2014-15 drought had the sub basin’s levels in a good space. Then water levels dropped from pumping due to lack of surface supplies. There has been some recovery for most of the area. There is a formula to determine how much can be pumped due to many factors – I can’t type fast enough to keep up. Amanda Monaco, from the Leadership Council asked if comments on the GSP have been addressed yet. Campbell said they’re working on it diligently. Monaco asked if there will be public participation in responding to the comments and attorney Jon Rubin said staff will take the first crack at it but they will be posted online. The board then passed a resolution for WWD to apply for a grant from DWR to pay for a groundwater metering network. This grant is for $500,000.

The finance committee report was next and water rates and charges was the first item. Controller Bobbie Ormonde said there isn’t room for a decrease from last year. She said there might be a case for a $.40 a/f reduction in O&M rates but she advised to not pull that trigger until December or January when supply projections will be a little clearer. The board approved all the reports and agreed to pay its bills. The investment report was also approved.

The next item was an appeal by a farming company for a waiver of the rules of the Finance & Administration Committee decision regarding financial provisions of the district. Staff said a plan to repay $47,000 was requested by the farm. It got complicated with late charges, dated letters and pervious committee action. The owners weren’t present to push their case and the board denied the waiver to allow the payment plan. Bummer.

Public comment was the last open session item and no one had anything much to say but Jon Reiter of Maricopa Orchards. He said there is a growers advisory committee that comes together to discuss issues not always before the board. He said there was a recent meeting with 25 or more growers and two new issues and three or four standing issues were also discussed. Reiter said a water options market in WWD needs to be developed. There are several thousand acres either fallowed or up for fallowing. He’d like to see a buyer/seller pool put together. The seller could make money from fallowed land and buyers have a solid supply. The growers want this concept to go forward. The other idea is to create a Community Aggregate Association for solar power. There are cases where growers have to run their wells or loss money on solar power. There could be a way to prevent this with some adjusting of the power structure. Another issue discussed was tiered supplemental pricing, but without much consensus. The growers acknowledged and wished to thank the board for allowing some earlier water transfers. That was considered a win. The last point was recharge and having a policy that has triggered banking in the district has been well received. Reiter said it was a good meeting.

There was a question from a man in the audience about the situation regarding raising Shasta Dam. Now, remember this is public comment not GM or board Q&A; so the following response is my version of what was communicated – not a quote of what was said. Birmingham did observe that Westlands still considers the raising of Shasta Dam good for all Californians.

And things then went into closed session.

Something has been bothering me and I’m going to share it with you. First; understand I have no relation to Westlands. I own no land or business interests in WWD and I don’t have any business arrangements with WWD. I do have clients, friends and acquaintances who live and or farm there.

There has been a plethora of stories recently about Westland’s getting a new water contract. Invariably it’s mentioned that Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt oversees the US Bureau of Reclamation and worked for a law firm that once lobbied for Westlands. There is no mention of this being illegal, the rules being flouted or any example of special treatment. There is no explanation of how the contract is structured or any history or context to water contracts with the Central Valley Project.

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But it is implied that somehow this new contract – as I understand it the same contract offered to other CVP contractors – is an unseemly exercise in crony connections. There is one self-proclaimed “anti-capitalist”* publication from, you guessed it, the Bay Area that actually printed a quote from an environmentalist saying Westlands, “. . . has already has succeeded in having David Bernhardt, their former lobbyist, appointed to be the Secretary of the Interior.” I’ve heard Westlands called powerful before but I had no idea they dictated who sits in the President’s cabinet.

According to the reports environmental interests claim this contract will kill off all manor of wildlife in the Delta and beyond. I’ve not seen any scenarios cited of how this will happen, just an announcement it will. One of the most often quoted environmental organizations is the Natural Resources Defense Council. Almost always backing the NRDC quotes are quotes by Congressman Jared Huffman who chairs the powerful Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, with jurisdiction over federal water projects, fisheries management, coastal zone and oceans policy, and wildlife and endangered species. His chairing the committee isn’t usually mentioned.

Many other things are also not usually mentioned; such as Huffman was a Senior Attorney for the NRDC who has a long history of suing folks – like the 20 plus year legal fight to restore salmon to San Joaquin River upstream from the Merced River confluence. Also not mentioned is the relative size of the NRDC and Westlands. Charity Navigator lists NRDC’s 2018 net assets at more than $359 million. Westlands WD’s 2018 audit shows its net at $269 million. I’ve heard Westlands’ growers referred to as greedy, corporate agriculture. Can you say greedy, corporate environmentalist? Or are they? No case is made either way for or against the growers, just a tag applied.

Also not mentioned, the westside of the San Joaquin Valley is big part of the Pacific Flyway for migratory waterfowl that depends on CVP water for its wetlands. Also not mentioned are the disadvantaged communities that depend on CVP water for their livelihoods. I have yet to read a single quote from a farmworker, or a farmer for that matter; folks who will be the most impacted by changes to water contracts. And that’s what bothers me the most. The people with the greatest amount at stake are lumped into ball known as Westlands.

So let’s review. A change in several water contracts is pending. A government official with past links to one of the contractors oversees the parent agency of the agency negotiating the contracts. An environmental group or groups accuse foul play based on the past link. Press releases and phone calls go out. A plethora of stories are published as a result. Were both sides of the story told? Were the stories balanced? Did they present any analysis of how the contracts would bring harm? Was context given about the contracts? Was there any mention of the environmental groups’ ties to government officials? Where the accusations investigated, verified or substantiated? Or just repeated? What does this mean about the quality of reporting?

It’s possible to make mistakes when reporting stories. I’m certainly a good example of that and wide open to criticism – and I do expect to get some for writing this. However, my opinion is; it’s a sin to paint a picture of everyone in Westlands as evil. That’s propaganda, not news. If you’ve ever thought about using the comment section here’s a good opportunity.

DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide his clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete.  Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from Waterwrights entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties. *Indybay.org I always wonder how the anti-capitalists justify raising money to pay their bills and if they get upset if someone owes them money.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright

Westlands Water District

3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno CA 93703 Phone:559/224-1523

Board: Don Peracchi-President, Dan Errotabere – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Frank Coelho Jr., Larry Enos, Ryan Ferguson, Stan Nunn & Todd Neves.

Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Jose Gutierrez-COO, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Diana Giraldo-Public Affairs Representative, Shelly Ostrowski-Associate GM Water Policy, Kitty Campbell-Supervisor of Resources, Bobbie Ormonde-VP of Finance & Administrative Affairs

About:  Without irrigation, farming in the Westlands area of California would be limited and ineffectual. The history of Westlands is one of continual adaptation, careful water stewardship and advanced technology. By maintaining a fierce commitment to sustainability, the Westlands’ comprehensive water supply system continues to adapt, educate, and surpass conservation goals. Throughout its history, Westlands Water District has demonstrated a lasting dedication to water conservation and recognized that the long-term survival of its farms depends on the effective management of California’s precious water resources. From www.wwd.ca.gov