California Here I Come

by Curt Burnett on August 10, 2009

The District has experienced a decrease in its water supply since the drought that began in 1987. Drought conditions as well as environmental regulations have led the Bureau of Reclamation to dramatically reduce the amount of water it delivers to Westlands, to the point where today, the District can expect to receive only about 50 percent of its contractual water supply in an average water year.

from the Westlands Irrigation District website

I’m headed out this evening for Fresno, bound for the Westlands Water District. I hope to get an opportunity to see firsthand some of the issues facing this largest irrigation district in the US. The Westlands website has a good summary history of the district, particularly its relationship with the Bureau of Reclamation. Whatever interpretation one may eventually make of some of the more controversial facts about the Westlands’ situation, it’s hard not to be concerned about the future of this highly-productive agricultural area and its contribution to the nation’s food supply.

There are two main problems facing the Westlands’ roughly 600,000 acres of irrigated farmland. The obvious one is an immediate shortage of water, the other is a surplus of water. Both are common to areas of irrigated farmland. The surplus comes in the form of runoff, which has apparently been a problem from early on. Inadequate drainage led to a buildup of saline groundwater, which in some places is only ten feet below the surface.

Many areas of irrigated farmland have been rendered unusable by salt buildup in the soil, both in modern and historic times. The Westlands’ situation is apparently further complicated by the presence of other elements in the irrigation water, such as selenium and boron.

I’ll pick up all the information that I can and post more in the next few days.

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