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Feds Set to Give 400 Farms More Water Than L.A., S.F., San Diego Combined

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

For Immediate Release: September 14, 2005

OAKLAND, Calif., Sept. 14 — The federal government is about to make a deal to give a few hundred California farmers control of more water than Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego combined use in a year — at pennies on the dollar of the price paid by urban water users.

The Bureau of Reclamation is poised to sign a contract with the giant Westlands Water District that will set the price and amount of water the district gets from the Central Valley Project (CVP) for the next 25 to 50 years. An investigation by Environmental Working Group (EWG) calculated the value of Westlands' federal water subsidy at $110 million a year — an amount the new contract will boost by tens of millions of dollars year. Over the life of the new contract, Westlands stands to rake in billions of dollars from federal taxpayers.

Terms of the Westlands contract will affect the supply and cost of water throughout California for decades to come. EWG's investigation, available at www.ewg.org, found:

  • The amount of water promised in the proposed contract is an increase of more than 50 percent over Westlands' current use. Yet, in violation of federal law, none of the additional water was considered in studies of the new contract's environmental impact.
  • Westlands is being promised more water even though it's getting $107 million from taxpayers in exchange for removing from cultivation 34,000 acres ruined by irrigation. To solve severe drainage problems, up to half of the 600,000-acre district may be taken out of production — but the contract implies that Westlands would get to keep its full current water allotment.
  • Nowhere in the contract does it say what price Westlands will pay for water in 2006 and beyond. With future prices a mystery, the contract cannot guarantee that Westlands will, as required by law, pay off the $386 million it owes the government as its share of the cost of building the CVP, the largest federal irrigation system in the nation.

"Westlands' new contract is a bad deal for urban water users, for fish and wildlife in the rivers it draws its water from, for state water planners — everybody but Westlands," said EWG Senior Analyst Renee Sharp, principal author of the report. "The Bureau of Reclamation is signing over the future of California's scarcest and most valuable resource to a group of rich agribusinesses who pay less than one-fifth the water's market value. This contract should be flushed down the drain."

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EWG is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C., that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment.

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