[env-trinity] Fresno Bee 10-15-10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon Oct 18 15:19:33 PDT 2010
Westlands Water investigation sought
By Mark Grossi
The federal government wants to offer west Valley farmers some of the
canals, pumps and other facilities in the Central Valley Project to settle a
long-running lawsuit over drainage problems.
The deal also would reduce or relieve hundreds of millions of dollars in
farm debt created to build the water project. In return, farmers would be
responsible for cleaning up the drainage.
But farmers, who first raised these ideas three years ago, say the offer
does not have what they want most -- assurance that they will get a reliable
water supply to ease chronic shortages.
On the Valley's west side near Los Banos, something strange is happening
this summer in the San Joaquin River -- water.
The river has continued to flow to the Pacific Ocean throughout the first
summer after an ambitious restoration effort began, sending a powerful
signal about the project's potential for success.
This end of the river has been dry in summer since Friant Dam was finished
in the late 1940s.
A story worthy of Hollywood will soon unfold in California courtrooms --
allegations of government corruption and corporate greed to rival the
infamous Los Angeles water grab that inspired the film "Chinatown."
Call it "Chinatown II," a tale beginning 15 years ago -- when, according to
lawsuits filed in the last three months, the state illegally turned over the
publicly owned Kern Water Bank to an agency controlled by giant corporations
in a backroom deal.
Defendants say the charges, like the movie, are mostly fiction. But
environmentalists and others who are suing say innocent people have been
hurt while big landowners reaped big profits.
Calling for a state investigation, water activists say tainted irrigation
drainage from Westlands Water District is moving undetected into the San
The nonprofit California Water Impact Network says underground drainage in
Westlands is migrating slowly downhill to neighboring farmland, where
subsurface drainage is captured and sent to the river.
"We'd like to know how much Westlands contributes," said Tom Stokely of the
water network. "We think it might be significant."
Westlands officials say the activists are wrong, adding that the district
has a history of trapped underground drainage that does not move. Officials
said they welcome the scrutiny.
The activists' request for the state study came Thursday, just days after
the state approved a nine-year extension on a drainage cleanup program for
the neighboring farmland that sends some drainage into the river.
Farmers on 97,000 acres downslope from Westlands have been dramatically
reducing drainage contaminants for many years in the Grassland Bypass
Project. The activist network, based in Santa Barbara, opposed the extension
and is considering legal action against it.
Activists say the farm drainage in the Grassland project makes the San
Joaquin exceed the standard for a natural element called selenium, which is
toxic to wildlife in high doses.
The contamination spreads downstream to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta,
where dwindling fish species suffer, activists say.
Westlands was painted as an environmental villain in the 1980s when
biologists discovered high concentrations of selenium had killed and maimed
wildlife at evaporation ponds.
The selenium-laced water had been drained from beneath Westlands fields. The
underground geology in parts of Westlands traps the bad water, which must be
captured in perforated pipes and removed or it will poison the land.
After the wildlife disaster in the 1980s, the ponds were closed and
thousands of acres were taken out of production. But a lot of drainage
remains trapped. For years, the district has been involved in legal action
against the federal government to dispose of the bad water.
Even though Westland's fields are upslope from the Grasslands Bypass
Project, the water could only migrate very slowly over centuries, said
Westlands general manager Tom Birmingham.
"The state has studied this type of claim against the district many times
before and has rejected them," Birmingham said. "We think it's a good idea
to put this ridiculous assertion to rest."#
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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