Northern California Congressmembers Criticize Agreement Between Interior Department and Westlands Water District
WASHINGTON, DC - Today, a group of four Members of Congress from Northern California sharply criticized the recent agreement negotiated between the Department of the Interior and the Westlands Water District in California’s Central Valley. The agreement, negotiated in secret with little public input or accountability, was designed to settle litigation over the need to provide drainage to selenium-impaired farmland, but is deeply flawed. It would guarantee Westlands a permanent water contract with no ongoing environmental review, potentially leave taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, and provide inadequate oversight over the drainage issue the agreement was designed to settle.
“I am deeply concerned by the secrecy and lack of accountability in this agreement,” said Congressman John Garamendi of California’s 3rd District. “This agreement will have a significant environmental and financial impact on California’s economy and environment. It forgives hundreds of millions of dollars that the district owes the government, and it might give Westlands even greater access to our water supply. But it will end up rammed through Congress with hardly any time for public input or scrutiny.”
“In short, this agreement is a bad deal,” said Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA). “This deal, negotiated in secret, gives Westlands a permanent water contract, among other concessions, which precludes any further environmental review or contract renewals. In return, Westlands will retire 100,000 acres of farmland, but that still leaves nearly 300,000 acres of impaired lands open to irrigation, opening the door to further pollution of our rivers and streams. The agreement includes no stipulations for oversight of drainage operations and no metrics by which to measure Westland’s compliance. While this brings an end to a long-standing dispute that had to be resolved, the concessions of this agreement go too far, placing our communities, water supply, and environment at risk.”
“I am troubled that the settlement does not fully address underlying drainage concerns, does not retire enough of the drainage impaired-lands, and may result in reduced water allocations for other Central Valley Project Contractors, including residents of my Congressional District. The settlement deserves a thoughtful and thorough evaluation before it is voted on in the House of Representatives,” said Congressman Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA).
“The Department of Interior settlement agreement with the Westlands Water District is a short term resolution of the legal problems between the parties,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA). In the long run however, the settlement will allow Westlands to keep farming the same land with the same drainage problems, but now their water rights are in perpetuity. How does this help solve California’s water problems? Simply put, it doesn’t, it just perpetuates them. The Department of Interior can do better by holding federal water users accountable.”
Representatives Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Jerry McNerney (D-CA) have also expressed their concerns about the agreement in separate statements. Congress must still approve the agreement, but a vote has not yet been scheduled.