OAKLAND, March 16 — The federal government has promised Central Valley agribusinesses it will increase the amount of taxpayer-subsidized irrigation water by 44 percent over the next 25 years, well beyond what the state's infrastructure can reliably supply, according to Bureau of Reclamation documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
In a report to be released Thursday, March 17, EWG said the Bureau's contracts with Central Valley Project (CVP) water districts, which are currently being renewed, promise an additional 1.5 million acre-feet of water a year. The idea of expanding the CVP is not new, but the documents reveal for the first time the scope of the Bureau's plans.
This much additional water can't be supplied without costly new dams or severe damage to fish and wildlife. But in blatant disregard of federal law, the contracts are being extended for 25 to 50 years without consideration of the environmental impacts of storing and delivering the extra water.
"The Bureau and its CVP contractors are rushing to sign contracts that will commit the federal government to delivery of water that doesn't exist, commit taxpayers to billions of dollars in construction costs, and commit California to a future in which most of its water is controlled by, and managed for the profit of, Central Valley agribusinesses," said EWG Senior Analyst Renee Sharp, author of the report.
For each CVP district, the report lists the current amount of CVP water used and the amount promised by 2025. Some districts, including the huge Westlands Water District, have been promised hundreds of thousands of additional acre-feet of water, even though the amount of irrigated acreage is declining. This will hand the districts windfall profits from reselling their subsidized water at a higher price.
The increased supplies promised in the contracts also mean a huge increase in the value of taxpayer subsidies to CVP recipients. EWG calculated that if the Bureau delivers 5.1 million acre-feet subsidized at roughly the same rate as in 2002, the value of the water subsidy in 2025 could be as high as $640 million.
EWG urges Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other California elected officials to call on the Bush Administration for an immediate moratorium on the signing of new CVP contracts until their impacts on water supply, water quality and wildlife are adequately considered and all legal requirements are met.