[env-trinity] Fw: Delta Flows -- Weekly Highlight from Restore the Delta for the Week of January 15, 2008

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Fri Jan 18 16:38:50 PST 2008

----- Original Message ----- 
From: Barbara Parrilla 
To: Barbara at restorethedelta.org 
Sent: Friday, January 18, 2008 12:45 PM
Subject: Delta Flows -- Weekly Highlight from Restore the Delta for the Week of January 15, 2008

Delta Flows - Weekly Highlights from Restore the Delta for the Week of January 15, 2008


"Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."                      

                                    --Hamlet, William Shakespeare


Audit Shows that Peripheral Canal Supporters Have Failed to Pay For Previous Water Projects


Restore the Delta staff, comprised primarily of environmental and community concern activists, finds it quite interesting that we are commenting over two consecutive weeks on debt and finances as it relates to water management in California.  However, we are exasperated by the history of money spent, unpaid debt, and potential for additional financial recklessness, in terms of acquired debt, that goes hand-in-hand with the steady ecological decline of the California Delta. 


While word has it that presently business proponents of a water bond including the peripheral canal will not be pursuing this endeavor through the initiative process, Restore the Delta has learned that the Delta's future will be on this year's legislative agenda.  We will keep you informed as proposed legislation becomes known.


For years, many Californians have ignored the environmental degradation of the Delta.  Perhaps, a closer look at loans, debt, and taxpayer responsibility, will prompt voters to rethink how proposed public funds could be best spent for Delta restoration.  


The articles posted below from today's Contra Costa Times and Fresno Bee best sum up the past.  Those water districts which have driven excessive Delta water exports - all to the detriment of Delta fisheries, farming, and recreation - and who are now behind the proposed plan for the peripheral canal, are the same groups who have not repaid what they owe for the dams and canals built forty years ago. 


Why do some political leaders and agency officials let these same water users drive the shaping of California's water policy in the present?  When will these same leaders begin to protect the Delta's environmental needs, part of the public trust, with the same vigor that they defend water exporters?  When will water conservation, the most cost effective and environmentally friendly means for protecting our water supply, become the driving force behind California's water policy?


Irrigation district owes millions, report finds

Contra Costa Times - 1/18/08

By Mike Taugher, staff writer


Forty years after it started farming the west San Joaquin Valley, the nation's largest irrigation district -- and one of the richest -- has repaid only 15 percent of what it owes taxpayers for a massive water delivery project, according to a congressional watchdog agency. 


The U.S. Government Accountability Office, in its first update in a decade on the debt repayment status of the Westlands Water District and several smaller irrigation districts, concluded Westlands still owes $372 million, the bulk of the $449 million owed by the districts. The debt, which dates to the late 1960s, carries no interest. 


"If they were homeowners, they would be foreclosed on," said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, one of three lawmakers who requested the report. 


The report was commissioned to help lawmakers evaluate a proposal from Westlands and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that would turn ownership of pieces of the Central Valley Project over to the water district and forgive the debt. In exchange, Westlands would develop its own drainage disposal plan and relieve the federal government of its obligation to drain irrigation water from the region. 


Miller said the GAO report showed the exchange, the details of which are still in flux, would probably be a bad deal for taxpayers. 


"They want more forgiveness from taxpayers," Miller said. "It's a flat-out abuse of the taxpayer." 


A layer of clay that underlies most of the Westlands district inhibits drainage and causes polluted water to build up, potentially into the root zones of crops. Before the district's drain was plugged in the 1980s, the polluted water emptied into the Keterson National Wildlife Refuge, causing a wildlife disaster of deformities and deaths in birds. 


Without a place to dispose of its drainage, Westlands sued and in 2000 won a court order that requires the federal government to fix the problem. 


The reclamation bureau has estimated the cost of draining the land at $2.7 billion, which is why Westlands has said the exchange would be a good deal for taxpayers: the government would not have to build the expensive project.


But if the government does have to deal with the drainage problem, Westlands would have to repay that $2.7 billion, or at least a substantial portion of it, although it might be under terms highly favorable to the water district. 


Frustrated by Westlands' slow repayment of the original debt, Congress in 1986 passed a law that set a 2030 deadline for Westlands and the other, smaller, west San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts to repay. 


But 22 years after that law was passed -- and 22 years before 2030 -- Westlands still has repaid just 15 percent of the total. 


Westlands and the reclamation bureau say the 2030 deadline to repay the interest-free loan could be met with a balloon payment or with some other financing plan. 


"There are reserves in Westlands to pay that," said district spokeswoman Sarah Woolf. 


U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Jeff McCracken said the details of debt repayment fall to Westlands. 


"How they do that is really up to them," McCracken said. "They are meeting their contractual obligations and they have until 2030 to repay the capital costs." 


The districts' debt is for their share of the San Luis Unit, the last piece of the massive Central Valley Project, a sprawling water delivery system that began with construction of a canal from the Delta to the Contra Costa Water District in the late 1930s and 1940s. 


The amounts owed by Westlands and the smaller San Luis districts are the irrigation districts' share to build San Luis Dam, a major canal, water distribution works, pump plants and other facilities. 


Under a separate repayment contract, Westlands has repaid $131 million of the $179 million cost of building the water distribution system within the district, the GAO reported. #




Valley growers owe $497m for water projects, audit shows

Fresno Bee - 1/18/08

By Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON -- San Joaquin Valley farmers still owe the federal government almost $500 million for dams and canals built in the 1960s, according to a new audit that will help frame the next round of decisions about California water. 


Farmers in the giant Westlands Water District and three other smaller irrigation districts south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta owe $497 million, the Government Accountability Office found. The money must be paid by 2030. 


It's no surprise that the farmers owe money. They've been gradually paying it back as part of their long-term water contracts with the federal Bureau of Reclamation. 


The dollar amount, though, draws attention on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are considering expensive proposals such as restoring the San Joaquin River and cleaning up irrigation drainage. The proposals address problems spawned by the construction of dams and canals. 


On the Valley's west side, a lack of natural drainage allowed irrigation water to accumulate, creating concentrations of dangerous elements leached from soil. 


"Taxpayers paid for these water projects decades ago, taxpayers paid for the cleanup of some of the projects' worst environmental consequences over the years, and now the taxpayers are still waiting to be repaid," said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez. 


Miller is the former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a longtime critic of Central Valley irrigation contracts. He helped request the GAO study, the latest in a long line of related audits. 


In 1992, Miller used earlier GAO audits in his campaign to direct more Central Valley water to environmental protection. Miller sought the latest audit to shape the debate over irrigation drainage problems on the Valley's west side. 


"Drainage is needed ... because a layer of clay prevents natural drainage, trapping salt and water in the root zones of crops and reducing the region's agricultural productivity," the GAO report issued Thursday stated. 


The Bureau of Reclamation estimates one drainage option would cost the government $2.7 billion, for a combination of land retirements, evaporation ponds and soil treatments. A second option would transfer responsibility to the water districts. They would fund the drainage solutions in exchange for having their construction debt forgiven. 


Water district officials and state and federal representatives have been meeting to discuss irrigation drainage options, but no solution appears to be imminent. Westlands representatives could not be reached to comment Thursday. 


All told, the new audit notes, the federal government spent about $3.4 billion on the Redding-to-Bakersfield system of dams and canals known as the Central Valley Project. The CVP's San Luis Unit serves the Westlands, Pacheco, Panoche and San Luis water districts, which stretch as far north as Merced County. 


A separate proposal has been made to restore water flows and salmon population to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The dam, which is not part of the San Luis Unit, is blamed for drying up the once-teeming river. 


Though the irrigation drainage problems primarily affect the Valley's west side and the river restoration primarily affects the east side, taken together they illustrate the scope of the water problems facing the region. 


On Thursday, reflecting the ongoing river struggle, Friant Water Users Authority Chairman Kole Upton said he would not run for re-election. Upton once praised the river restoration deal reached with environmental groups, but he now believes it could harm farmers by taking away too much irrigation water. 


"This 'Neville Chamberlain' strategy of capitulation and surrender will doom the Friant service area to 20 years of hardship and involuntary land retirement," Upton wrote Thursday in a message to other water officials. 


Democratic Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and other Friant-area water district directors contend the river settlement is the best long-term solution, offering certainty for both fish and farmers. #





Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla

Campaign Director

Restore the Delta

Making the Delta fishable, swimmable, drinkable, and farmable by 2010!

Barbara at restorethedelta.org


ph: 209-479-2053

PO Box 691088

Stockton, CA 95269

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