The purpose of the scheme is the removal of selenium in drainwater from western San Joaquin Valley croplands. Western San Joaquin Valley soils are rich in selenium. High levels of this element are toxic to fish and wildlife, and westside agricultural drainwater has been implicated in a series of environmental catastrophes over the past 30 years, most notably the Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge debacle of the 1980s.
Ever since Kesterson, drainwater has been a hot-button issue. But there's a ready and reasonably priced solution: land retirement. Indeed, this already is under way. So far, more than 100,000 acres of westside land have been taken out of production. These tracts were so laden with salt from decades of irrigation that farming them was no longer practical.
This low-tech and cost-effective approach would effectively solve all of our drainwater problems. Selenium contamination of the San Joaquin River -- and ultimately, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and San Francisco Bay -- would fall to near zero because drainwater discharges would cease. We would save great quantities of California's most precious natural resource -- water. And large tracts of land would become available for a wide range of alternative uses, including sustainable industries such as solar energy farms.
Not only is this the best approach; according to the U. S. Geological Survey, it's the single effective solution. The agency has stated unequivocally that reducing irrigation is the only way to eliminate drainage problems on the westside.