9 Dec 2009

Tom Birmingham of Westlands Water District

Last Sunday, I spent five hours talking to Tom Birmingham, General Manager and Chief Council of Westlands Water District, "the biggest irrigation district in the world."

Among other things, we discussed crop choices, water efficiency, governance, Feinstein, his work for LADWP on Mono Lake, the water bills, the Peripheral Canal, family farms, water markets, exports and other malign influences on the Delta (and Smelt), unemployment in the area, and so on...

In particular, Tom was anxious to clear up two conflusions:
  1. Westlands does not have "junior water rights." As a contractor to BurRec, it has service contracts for delivery. Its contracts are "junior" in the sense that they get cut back the earliest, and most, compared to municipal, environmental and exchange contracts.
  2. Westlands does not have poor soil. It has excellent soil, but that soil suffers two problems: It contains selenium, which can accumulate in irrigation water (and harm the environment). Poor drainage can lead to water logged and salted roots, which destroys production.
Tom identified water delivery reliability as Westlands' short term problem and drainage as their long term problem.

I was very pleased that Tom took the time to meet with me, and I found him to be knowledgeable, patient and realistic. Enjoy the tapes.

Birmingham 1 [57 min/20MB]
Birmingham 2 [70 min/25MB]
Birmingham 3 [70 min/25MB]
Birmingham 4 [28 min/10MB]
Birmingham 5 [60 min/21MB]