Also at the meeting in Stockton was Westlands Water District chief deputy general manager Jason Peltier. He tried to focus on what Westlands and Delta farmers have in common, although that is kind of a hard case to make. (It might have been easier for him if there had been more farmers in the audience, but this was a work day for them, so the case for the Delta was being made primarily by Delta cities and counties, fisheries and recreation advocates, and environmentalists.)
Peltier noted that Delta farmers get 100% of the water they need. Well, yes, they have riparian and other senior water rights, and from the beginning, Westlands was intended to receive only water that was surplus to needs in the Delta and the upper watersheds. They and Kern County water users receive about 80% of the water exports taken from the Delta.
He talked about the myth (“almost bigotry”) of evil corporate farmers, noting that Westlands farmers have to plant more valuable crops to afford water on the open market. Well, yes, but when giant growers can’t get enough water for those more-valuable crops (like almonds), why should the Delta be asked to suffer?
Stockton City Council member Kathy Miller noted that the issue is not incorporation (lots of Delta farmers are incorporated, too) but the percentage of farmers to acres being farmed. They may be perfectly legal, those giant swathes of Westlands acreage being irrigated with federal project water by landowners who may not live anywhere near their land. Let’s not call those landowners evil. But arrogant isn’t too strong a word for some of them. And perhaps suffering from a false sense of entitlement.
Unlike Jerry Meral, Jason Peltier stayed for the whole meeting. We appreciate that.