Reclamation releases Westlands water contract exhibits that opponents say are 'vague placeholders’

By Dan Bacher |  
In response to a letter sent by fishing and environmental groups on October 29 and the reporting on the Westlands Water District’s permanent 1.15 million acre-feet contract, the Bureau of Reclamation on Friday announced that it has released the Westlands draft repayment contract and has extended the 60-day public comment period until January 8, 2020. 
Conservation, environmental justice and public interest groups responded with outrage on November 8 to media reports that Secretary David Bernhardt’s Interior Department is poised to award one of the first contracts for federal water “in perpetuity” to the powerful Westlands Water District - the largest agricultural water district in the U.S. and Bernhardt’s former lobby client.  
The draft Bureau of Reclamation contract dated October 22 shows that Interior plans to deliver Westlands up to 1.15 million acre-feet of water a year, more than double the water supply used by the City of Los Angeles in 2018, according to Roll Call.  
“This draft contract provides project water service and facilities repayment pursuant to the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN Act).Section 4011 of the WIIN Act directs Reclamation to convert water service and existing repayment contracts for construction costs prepayments upon the contractor’s request,” Reclamation said in its annoucement.
Public trust advocates were not impressed with the contract exhibits released. 
“The contract exhibits are vague placeholders,” said Patricia Schifferle of Pacific Advocates. “It  remains impossible to evaluate this permanent water contract without the completed exhibits and compliance with NEPA, ESA and CWA provisions.”  
“These impacts remain unknown along with impacts to other CVP and SWP contractors from this large permanent water contract that exports from the San Francisco Bay Sacramento San Joaquin Delta Estuary and Trinity River watersheds where the water is taken,” concluded Schifferle. 
Salmon advocates blasted the water deal between Westlands and Interior, since guaranteeing more Northern California water to Westlands in permanent contracts will only further imperil struggling runs of salmon and steelhead on the Sacramento, Joaquin, Trinity and Klamath rivers.
"Save California Salmon is strongly opposed to this sweetheart contract,” said Regina Chichizola, Save California Salmon's co-director, in a statement Friday.  “Westlands Water District not only diverts California's coldest salmon rivers to the desert hundreds of miles away, they use it to water crops on California's poisoned lands."  
"Climate change impacts to our rivers and possible impacts to Tribal water rights makes locking in these diversions unacceptable. Much of Westlands' crops are exported, but their diversions and pollution are largely responsible for killing off Northern California's salmon, and their discharges are polluting our drinking water. We should be retiring some of Westlands lands and protecting our rivers, not promising an endless contract to Westlands because they are Bernhardt's buddies,” stated Chichizola.
Written comments must be received by close of business on January 8, 2020, and sent to Erma Leal, Bureau of Reclamation, South-Central California Area Office, 1243 N Street, Fresno, CA 93721, or faxed to 559-262-0371, or emailed to
For more information, read my piece:
Below is the text of letter from fishing and environmental groups:    
October 29, 2019
Ernest A. Conant, Mid-Pacific Regional Director, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825. 
Via Email and Regular Mail
Re: Westlands WD Conversion Contract for 1.15 MAF Exhibits under the WIIN Act § 4011. Dear Mr. Conant,
Via Email and Regular Mail
Re: Westlands WD Conversion Contract for 1.15 MAF Exhibits under the WIIN Act § 4011. Dear Mr. Conant,
On October 24, 2019, the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) publicly noticed a permanent contract between BuRec, and the Westlands Water District (Westlands).
A 60 day public comment period was initiated and days are presently counting down. There is are two significant problems.
First, according to published BurRec rules, water contracts are required to be negotiated pursuant to an open, public process in accordance with Reclamation law and regulation. The pending water contract between BuRec and Westlands was required to be negotiated pursuant to such a process. Westlands could not provide any documentation of public notice for the negotiations. Please provide all documents related to the public negotiation process, including, but not limited to:
  1. 1)  Copies of the Federal Register notice(s) for each meeting.
  2. 2)  Copies of all press announcement(s) for each meeting.
  3. 3)  Copies of all draft contracts and complete set of documents related thereto.
  4. 4)  Copies of all correspondence (regardless of the method – letter, email, report, facebook, instant message, etc.) between WWD and the US Department of the Interior, including but not limited to (a) the Office of the Secretary and Deputy Secretary; (b) the office of the Solicitor; and/or (c) theBureau of Reclamation in Fresno, Sacramento, Denver, Washington, DC and other offices as appropriate.
  1. 5)  Copies of all legal, financial, hydrological and programmatic analyses provided by either party or
    commented upon by same.
  2. 6)  A copy of the legal sufficiency determination – a legal statement by DOI/SOL/BuRec that the
    proposed contract is consistent with the San Luis Act of June, 1960.
Second, according to the BurRec notice, a comment period was initiated.
A complete set of contract documents, as approved and supporting materials are not available. We contacted Westlands to provide a complete set of contracting documents including the listed exhibits, A- D. According to Westlands, they assert that they do not have a complete set of contract documents. And specifically they do not have the referenced exhibits A-D. BuRec has not posted or otherwise made available the same documents. No water interest can prepare or submit meaningful comments without a full and complete set of documents.
In light of these circumstances, we request the following:
Public notice of the 60 day comment period be withdrawn. The Comment period, initiated by the notice, be halted.
BuRec and WWD now release:
A. All supporting documents related to the water services contract B. All justification documents, including legal analyses
C. All correspondence between WWD and/or their agents or representatives
We attempted to obtain these documents, but were referred to a lengthy Freedom of Information Process which would effectively preclude public comment and participation.
If Reclamation included any provisions in this proposed contract that are atypical, unusual or in conflict with established Reclamation policy, please identify such provisions are provide details explanations and all legal analyses.

If the public process for participation and observation of the contract negotiations was waived, please provide a justification for nullifying the public contract requirements.
We look forward to your prompt response. Under the current public clock comments are due December 24, 2019. These documents are essential to understanding how and if BuRec will enforce the Congressional directives to avoid land speculation and prevent water monopoly. 
Jonas Minton, Senior Water Policy Advisor, Planning and Conservation League
Noah Oppenheim Executive Director, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Asso.  
Kathryn Phillips, Director, Sierra Club
Conner Everts, Executive Director, Environmental Water Caucus, Southern California Watershed AllianceEnvironmental Water Caucus
Pietro Parravano, President, Institute for Fisheries
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Director, Restore the
Bill Jennings, Chairman Executive Director, California Sportfishing Protection  


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