Friends of the Bay-Delta,
From our friends at The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA):
Senator Dianne Feinstein- (202) 224-3841, (310) 914-7300, (415) 393-0707, (559) 485-7430
Senator Kamala Harris- (202) 224-3553, (213) 894-5000, (415) 355-9041, (559) 497-5109
Tell both of California’s senators that you oppose HR 1769, the San Luis Drainage Resolution Act, which is expected to be added as a rider on the National Defense Authorization Act for 2018 in the next ten days, or else will move to the Senate as a stand-alone bill in the next month. Tell Harris and Feinstein that they should not sign onto the administration’s anti-environmental agenda by supporting this bill. HR 1769 is a huge giveaway to the Westlands Water District (Westlands), which was fined by the Securities and Exchange Commission for securities fraud.
The bill would facilitate a controversial litigation settlement agreement between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Westlands that would allow the federal government to walk away from its responsibility to drain agricultural lands in California’s Central Valley of toxic salts and selenium without any safeguards to make sure the drain water is managed safely. H.R. 1769 is a massive giveaway of taxpayer money, undermines California’s effort to responsibly manage its scarce water resources, could imperil sensitive fish and wildlife, and threatens water quality in a major California river.
Under existing law, the federal government is responsible for managing salts that build up from irrigation of some farmland in California’s Western San Joaquin Valley. Through a tragic series of events that culminated in the poisoning of migratory birds at Kesterson Reservoir in the early 1980s, we learned that the salt-laden drainage water also contains selenium and other toxins that can bioaccumulate and kill birds, fish and other wildlife. Instead of managing the drain water responsibly or buying up the land to end the problem, Reclamation is now attempting to settle litigation with Westlands—the largest irrigation district in the United States—in a manner that would absolve the federal government of its duty to clean-up the drain water and bestow vast benefits on Westlands’ heavily subsidized agribusinesses, without including adequate safeguards for the environment.
H.R. 1769 and the settlement it would authorize are a bad deal for the American people and for the environment.
First, H.R. 1769 transfers responsibility to manage the toxic drainage from Reclamation to Westlands, but fails to include any details about how Westlands will deal with the drain water. The legislation and settlement don’t include any cleanup plan and performance standards, any monitoring and reporting requirements, or any enforcement mechanisms. The State of California does not monitor or regulate selenium discharges to the aquifer underlying Westlands. Handing the responsibility for this toxic drainage to Westlands without any safeguards is irresponsible and could endanger Pacific Flyway birds, salmon and other wildlife.
Second, H.R. 1769 would give Westlands a permanent contract for a vast quantity of water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary and the Trinity River, at an even cheaper water price, that is incompatible with the needs of endangered fish and will encourage more irrigation of these toxic lands rather than less. This long-term contract and the lack of any increased retirement of the toxic lands would make it even more difficult for California to responsibly manage its scarce water resources.
Third, H.R. 1769 would forgive Westlands for the approximately $350 million it already owes taxpayers for the capital costs of federal water infrastructure built largely on their behalf, and gives them ownership of most of the pipes, pumps, and other federal property serving the district. The legislation compounds that with the conversion of the current Westlands two-year water contract into a permanent water contract for almost twice as much water as Los Angeles uses in a year.
Fourth, the court settlement only required Westlands to retire 100,000 acres of drainage-impaired land, but HR 1769 doesn’t even do that, allowing for the continued irrigation of hundreds of thousands of acres of drainage-impaired soils that will continue to produce toxin-laden drain water. All of Westlands’ irrigated acreage will be relieved of any acreage or farm-size limitations for the purchase of subsidized water, bestowing benefits on some of the largest farm operations in the state.
Fifth, H.R. 1769 is an incomplete deal because it still leaves Reclamation with responsibility for toxic drainage in three other water districts that border Westlands and are covered by the same 1960 law. This refutes a central rationale for the bill: that it will get the government out of the drainage business. The bill only makes a toxic situation worse.
H.R. 1769 includes a litany of gifts for Westlands, with no commensurate benefit for the public. Instead, the bill promises fiscal irresponsibility and peril for fish, waterfowl, and the California environment in general. It’s an outrageous giveaway to corporate agribusiness that fails to solve the underlying drainage problem.
President Trump’s Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was a lobbyist for Westlands before he took his current job and specifically lobbied on this drainage settlement. Please encourage Senators Feinstein and Harris to resist Trump’s anti-environmental agenda and to oppose HR 1769.
For more information, please contact Noah Oppenheim ([email protected]) at 207-233-0400 or Tom Stokely at 530-524-0315 ([email protected]).
The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) is the largest and most active trade association of commercial fishermen on the West Coast. PCFFA has led the fishing industry in protecting the rights of fishermen and fishing communities since 1976. We constantly fight for the long-term survival of commercial fishing as a productive livelihood and way of life.