Obama’s Westlands Solar District opportunity

The Fresno Bee’s Mark Grossi reports that Westlands Water District is suing the feds for not providing drainage services for 600,000 acres of salt-laden lands. Why wouldn’t they sue?

I have blogged about this issue here and here. Respectively, these posts address 1/ the dubious success of a pilot project bypass drainage service infrastructure and 2/ the problem that the feds got themselves into when they agreed to “provide drainage services” in the first place.

With regard to Westlands, it is time for the federal government to correct its two major errors. The first was in its complicity in the creation of an ostensibly viable Westlands Water District in 1952. The second was when it created a federal responsibility, under Bush 41, the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, to “provide drainage services” to Westlands.

The Westlands would love it if the government would throw good money after bad here. Westlands will of course oppose the idea of being bought out - that it is among the most productive agricultural regions in the world, it is bad for national food security policy to take it out of production, jobs will be lost, prices for food will go up, etc. - but the problem is that the government cannot do what is is contractually obliged to do: provide drainage services.

And everyone but Westlands will complain Why should Westlands get a big bailout - hypocrites because they are opposed to gov’t handouts except to the wealthy, they still haven’t paid off the costs for building the infrastructure that brings them their (Delta) water, they are a bunch of wealthy land speculators, etc. - but the problem is that Westlands will continue to pursue a legal course of action until it gets what it has been promised when it comes to someone else having to pay for dealing with the polluting consequences of irrigating their toxic property.

So, this is not a question of whether Westlands deserves more water, or less water, or whose fault it is that they do or should get it at all. Unless I misunderstand the implications of the CVPIA, Westlands has a case with this latest litigation. And in the long run, it makes much more sense to just buy them out, whatever the costs, than it does to pay them off now, and again, and again…

After all, Westlands would be an excellent place to build a very large solar collection infrastructure. And even they know it. And despite the opposition’s rhetoric on Solyndra, a Westlands Solar District would create a new, green supply of electricity, and many high-quality, federally-funded jobs in the process.

Posted by John Bass on 06 Feb 2012 | Comments (10)


Money was appropriated by Congress and available in the 1960s for building the Westlands drainage system.  Instead, the Bureau of Reclamation, with the full acquiescence, support, and encouragement of Westlands, redirected the drainage funds and instead spent it on an expanded distribution system (for incoming fresh irrigation water) for the West Plains Storage District which was annexed into Westlands AFTER the San Luis Act was passed in 1960.  This is all detailed in the 1978 Congressional Task Force Report.  Congress never approved the West Plains addition (so-called Area Two) according to the Task Force.  Westlands did not make a peep when the drainage funds were diverted to add more poor quality acreage to the West of the original Westlands, some of which had been specifically excluded from the San Luis Unit as non-irrigable.  Read my law review article at http://www.lloydgcarter.com.
  The Bureau erred, of course, but it was acting on the wishes of landowners in Westlands and West Plains. Moreover, Westlands never squawked when the Secretary of Interior did not gain assurances a drain would be built, as the 1960 Act specifically directed.
  Plenty of blame to go around but to think Westlands blameless in this is to have your headed in sand. They could have halted irrigation deliveries beginning in 1967 until the drain was built. They wanted the fresh water first.  There is a breach of the contract on both sides.

In the last paragraph of my comment above I meant to say “head in the sand” and also meant to say 1967, not 2967.  However, rest assured, the Westlands’ problems will probably still be around in 2967.
Lloyd Carter

- I made the edit.

Well written John.
If Westlands were granted senior water rights today then tommorrow they would solicit a government buyout.
Until then it “ain’t gonna happen”.
If they sell now they lose the only bargaining chip they have to aquire those rights.
Make no mistake, that’s the ultimate goal.
Meanwhile you’ll have Mike Wade and the rest of the talking heads expounding on the benefits of continuing to irrigate this land while being totally unable to offer a solution as to what we are supposed to do with the effluent produced.
Just like “The check’s in the mail” and ” I’ll love you in the morning” the promise of drainage service to the westside won’t happen.
The bottom line is there is no viable solution to the question of what do you do with the effluent.


or if you prefer the greenwashed version :

Thank you Lloyd Carter for providing context to the history of Westlands and its decision to build delivery infrastructure instead of a drainage system when it had the chance. And that it quite likely expanded without federal authority to do so.

I guess the question I have for you would be “to where would all of that toxic water end up if they had built that drain back in the 60’s?” Assuming a drain design was based on good ol’ mid-century engineer’s bottom line thinking, that toxic water would have been destined for the Delta. If that were the case, just how bad would the Delta’s ecosystem be today? Especially one based on early-60’s environmental ideals?

I am not naive. I realize that both sides are complicit in this. I also strongly suspect that the legal question is not clear cut one way or another, and that the status quo benefits no group except for water lawyers. Food for thought is all I seek to provide.

And Chris Gulick, your theory about Westlands’ strategy for coercing senior water rights is intriguing, but I don’t know enough about the process of obtaining those rights to hazard a guess about that strategies’ viability. Maybe you could elaborate. Under what scenario would their legal pressure compel the feds or state to employ such a radically biased usurpation of another entity’s right?

Does “radically biased usurpation of another entity’s right” refer to eminent domain as the likely method of forcing a sale or
does it refer to usurping the rights of senior water rights holders to the benefit of Westlands ?

If Stewart Resnick et al. chooses not to sell AND there is no viable solution for drainage, that leaves the goverment in a tough spot.
I don’t see the Feds invoking eminent domain proceedings against a billionaire with a “B” who can fund a drawn out delaying tactic for as long as he chooses.
Mr. Resnick didn’t become a Billionaire by accident. I suspect given the right financial incentive he’ll cooperate.Right now he and the other owners think they’ve got the feds by the short hairs thus they have no incentive to solve this or to sell.
Mr. Resnick isn’t growing pomegranates to feed third world nations. His crop choices are about making money and that is the only thing that will get his attention.
The fed has no money to spend so it is more likely they will grant the water rights as payment, allow them to maintain ownership of the land with the stipulation that no water can be imported for irrigation, and give Mr. Resnick a win win solution paid for by the taxpayers and overtly detrimental only to senior water rights holders.
Conspiracy theory ? We’ll see.

Resnick does not farm in the Westlands.

Chris, I’ve read the NRDC post you’ve attached. It does set up yet another grim scenario to go along with the two I listed in the previous (not this) post. Still, I would interpret Nunes’s bill ultimately as an attempt to gut the ESA, not wrest senior water rights from one group and give them to another group.

As for where the Resnicks ag land is, it is accurate to say it is irrigated by the San Luis unit, but not within the WWD. In the past I’ve linked their interests to increased water deliveries, and to that “three-inch bait fish.” I don’t know if their land and interests are linked to the WWD vis-a-vis the toxicity issues. I suspect the Resnick’s land is less toxic because, if I am correct, it is less westerly.

It is not accurate to say Resnick gets his water from the San Luis Unit. He gets his water from the State Water Project.

Thanks, Lloyd. I should have been more circumspect in my statement about where the Resnick operation’s water comes from.

Resnick does make money off of Westlands water by storing in the Kern Water Bank water that Westlands has exchanged with Met.  So he’s an indirect recipient of San Luis Unit water

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