15 Nov 2010

Opinions and errors

Several people asked what I thought of Tom Birmingham's OpEd in the Sac Bee.

I think it has errors. The game here is to identify them.

Please quote his sentence and where the error(s) lie.
Attack on valley water district misinformed

Farmers and fishermen are both suffering from the effects of California's broken water system. In a recent commentary, "Big Ag cries big tears; salmon run dries up" (Viewpoints, Nov. 7), Larry Collins turned his concerns about declining fisheries into an attack on the Westlands Water District, which was misinformed.

With respect to water subsidies, Westlands pays the costs of water delivery, just like other public water agency served by the Central Valley Project and just like the millions of other water users that have been served by federal reclamation projects throughout the 17 Western states since 1902.

There is nothing "junior" about our water rights; we have the same rights as other CVP contractors south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Corporate ownership of Westlands ended a quarter century ago, in accordance with federal law. And far from enjoying a surplus this year, Westlands received only 45 percent of its CVP allocation.

Contrary to Collins' claims, Westlands does not sell water nor do we allow our farmers to transfer water out of the district. To conserve water, we have arranged to store water temporarily in Southern California this year to prevent it from being lost.

This agreement produces double benefits for the general public. Urban areas in Southern California are able to use the water now to help recover from the drought, and agricultural communities in the Central Valley will get the water back next year when it is needed for planting crops.

Westlands works closely with state and federal fish agencies to ensure that the Endangered Species Act is being fully enforced and to make certain we are meeting the most stringent regulations for fishery protection. According to federal scientists, however, the recent decline in salmon abundance that Collins decries is the result of ocean conditions and excessive predation by other, non-native fish.


  1. Birmingham is right in his description of the storage swap, mis-characterized by those either too ignorant or too mendacious to want to describe or understand the nature of the transaction.
    The other stuff is lawyer-talk: literally correct but inferentially false. Yes they are not "junior" to anybody else excerpt the other junior holders.

  2. Oops, sorry: the last sentence should read "they are not junior to other junior holders; but they certainly are junior to senior holders". Unfortunately Westlands forgets this sometimes. David, you may correct my comment to reflect this typo.

  3. Ask Birmingham, as an official of a public agency subject to the public records act, to provide you with a list of each of the entities that farms in the Westlands, how much water they got in the last non-drought year, and now much acreage they farm. And ask if any of those “entities” have interlocking ownership (which I know they do.) Ask if Chevron, a corporation, still owns 10,000 acres in the Westlands. Then we’ll know if his claim of no corporate farms has any substance.

  4. "Westlands pays the costs of water delivery"
    No, they pay the prices the Bureau charges. The prices charged have interest subsidies for the capital. This is a sneaky statement.

  5. LC: Anybody who farms uses a corporate or LLC business form, unless they are very tiny, or ignorant. There is enough risk in this business as it is. If by 'corporate' you mean people who farm to make money instead of as a lifestyle gesture, you should say so. No doubt some of the operators in Westlands are still profitable, but not many. What would improve if they all lost money?
    If Chevron still owns any farm land there, they certainly do not farm it. I have no doubt there continue to be all sorts of shenanigans around the acreage limitation rules. This utterly unworkable scheme was dreamed up by people with no knowledge of the West. John Wesley Powell thought it was idiotic. Since idiocy seems to be the litmus test of whether a government policy survives, this one has lasted over a century.

  6. The last paragraph is my favorite. "Westlands works closely with state and federal fish agencies to ensure that the Endangered Species Act is being fully enforced..."
    Funny, I thought they were suing federal fish agencies to ensure the ESA was weakly enforced.


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