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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Water deal leaves bad taste, State transfers contaminated groundwater in drinking water supply for millions

from the PCL Insider newsletter, July 9, 2008

to read story with additional weblinks, see:

Last week, the California Department of Water Resources announced that it will allow contaminated groundwater to be pumped into the California Aqueduct, which supplies water to millions of Californians, in order to deliver more water to the Westlands Water District in the San Joaquin Valley.

Because the groundwater in question contains high levels of salts, nitrates and selenium, DWR would normally prohibit its transfer within the California Aqueduct. However, due to the Governor's emergency declaration in June, DWR will make an exception and allow 20,000 acre feet of this groundwater to be transferred, even though it will degrade the water supplies of areas such as Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside.

In addition to the transfer of millions of gallons of contaminated water via the California Aqueduct, the Westlands Water District is receiving help from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD). MWD announced that it would lend 25,000 acre feet of water to the Westlands Water District this summer. (This announcement came just weeks after Metropolitan Water District, which also serves Los Angeles, San Diego and Riverside, instituted a "Water Supply Alert" calling for extraordinary water conservation.) Written agreements require Westlands Water District to "pay back" the lent water by October. However, the Westlands Water District may have trouble making good on those terms if the dry spell of the past two years extends to this fall and winter.

The Westlands Water District is one of the largest irrigation districts in the world. It serves agricultural businesses that receive some of the greatest water, energy and crop subsidies in the nation. The lands irrigated in the Westlands Water District are severely drainage impaired. When these lands are irrigated salts build up in the soils and toxic levels of selenium concentrate in drainage waters, producing poor conditions for crops and highly toxic agricultural runoff.

Just last month, the United States Geological Survey reported contamination build-up within the Westlands Water District will result in unusable soils and groundwater in as little as 25 years. The USGS further found that taking 300,000 acres of land within the Westlands Water District out of production would eliminate the drainage and contamination problem altogether. PCL has been promoting compensated land retirement within the Westlands Water District for some time.

These two actions to benefit large landowners in Westlands Water District, at the expense of others, demonstrates once again that California cannot support the water demands of drainage impaired agricultural lands without further degrading drinking water quality and the reducing the health of the Bay Delta Estuary.

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