Environmental Group Uncovers “Secret” Deal that Forgives $400 Million in Central Valley Project Debt

Environmental Group Uncovers “Secret” Deal that Forgives $400 Million in Central Valley Project Debt Central Valley Business Times Santa Barbara Oct. 16, 2014


The Westlands Water District and other users of water from the federal Central Valley Project are within months of seeing the Obama administration forgive $400 million the farmers owe for building the irrigation project, according to environmental groups that have found what they call a secret deal between Westlands and the Obama administration.

In addition, the deal provides subsidized water to corporate agriculture without acreage limitations, and will allow continued pollution of state waterways with selenium-laden farm runoff, says the California Water Impact Network.

Points of the deal include:

• Forgiveness of nearly $400 million owed by Westlands and others to the federal government for capital repayment of Central Valley Project debt.

• Minimal land retirement consisting of 100,000 acres; the amount of land Westlands claims it has already retired (115,000 acres) would be credited to this final figure.

• A permanent CVP contract for 890,000 acre-feet of water a year exempt from acreage limitations.

“This ‘settlement’ is essentially a wish list by Westlands,” says Tom Stokely, spokesman for the California Water Impact Network. “It locks in the destructive practices of the district, it continues to subsidize big agriculture with taxpayer money, and it poses a long-term threat to both California’s environment and the state’s water supply. It is crony capitalism at its worse, and it demonstrates once again the corrosive power of money and corporate influence in Washington.”

(Listen to an interview with Mr. Stokely by click on the link at the end of this story.)

Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, say the deal is bad for many water contractors, not just fisheries and the environment.

“It would give Westlands a permanent water contract before all Endangered Species Act litigation is completed,” says Mr. Jennings. “In effect, this gives Westlands a leg up over other south-of-Delta contractors.”

The agreement is still subject to approval by Congress, but it appears that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein will shepherd the legislation through Congress, the group says.