UPDATE: You can sign an online petition (in seconds) that calls for Feinstein to put the brakes on this terrible water giveaway. Takes only a few seconds…

I haven’t made a secret of my antipathy for the Westlands irrigation district . They’re pushing to have Shasta Dam raised — flooding miles of the Upper Sac, McCloud and Pit Rivers — and they’re also the beneficiaries of a huge, ongoing federal subsidy in the form of the Central Valley Water project.

In fact, to thank us taxpayers for our largesse, they sued the government when their irrigation practices left a whole segment of the valley poisoned by selenium, and the excellent Aquafornia blog labeled them “The badboys of federal irrigation projects .”

Now Westlands wants the government to simply hand them even more water rights, hoping that you and I won’t notice they want to be forgiven their $489 million dollar debt for infrastructure and to be given rights to 260 billion gallons of publicly owned water worth upwards of $40 billion.

Remember those numbers next time you’re working overtime to pay for new tires on the truck.

LLoyd G. Carter — a former reporter from Fresno who’s written about water issues for 30 years — encapsulates the Westlands water district’s history of water grabs, questionable practices, lying, ignoring laws, sidestepping environmental concerns… you get the picture. From his lengthy-but-information-packed entry on Carter’s blog:

Now they [westlands] are poised to pull off the biggest coup in their controversial history. If they get what they are asking for, 260 billion gallons of publicly-owned water a year for 60 years, they will capture water worth anywhere from $20 to $40 billion – that’s billion with a B – with which they are free to farm tainted soils with, OR resell to urban interests at fantastic profit margins. At the current retail market price of $500-600 an acre-foot in Southern California, the Westlands water, purchased at a fraction of its true valley could be worth $2,000 an acre-foot by 2050, when there could be 60 million Californians. The potential value of 15.6 trillion gallons of water in a drought-stricken climate staggers the imagination.

Diane Feinstein — a California senator who’s never shied away from damaging water “reclamation” projects — seems to be firmly behind the giveaway , suggesting that the sweetheart deal was encouraging, and that the “devil is in the details.”

I’d suggest the devil is negotiating for Westlands, who somehow promise to clean up the selenium and salt tainted region for less than $1 billion when the feds think it will cost $2.6 billion.

They plan to do so using unproven new technologies that the EPA doesn’t believe will work.

Color me skeptical; Westlands has a history of ignoring or circumventing “family farming” laws in the past, and so far, there’s no guarantee tying water deliveries to an actual cleanup, or even a mechanism for real public oversight of the cleanup.

PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) have weighed in with :

“The Bureau of Reclamation seems to be peddling selenium snake oil,” stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach, noting that Reclamation historically backs irrigator preferences. “The Bureau selenium bio-treatment scenario is simply wishful thinking, unsupported by a shred of credible science.”

The San Joaquin River already suffers from severe selenium effects and is an impaired water body for a 130-mile stretch, reaching down to its delta, Suisun Bay and adjacent marshes. The impacts also extend to the salmon and steelhead of the Sacramento, American, Trinity and Klamath Rivers.

“Left to its own devices, the Bureau of Reclamation will embrace a hugely expensive boondoggle that may result in the mother of all Kestersons,” Schambach warned. “It would be far more effective and ten times less expensive to retire the land and shut off the irrigation pumps.”

If you’re into the details, the EPA memo condemming the plan — based on the utter lack of feasibility — can be found here .

The Bottom Line (for Westlands)

Instead of simply retiring the poisoned land (thereby not putting even more poison in our water supply), Westlands intends to make a huge profit re-selling water (far more than they make farming), and if their “word” means as much as it has in the past, you can largely forget about a real cleanup.

It’s time the people charged with protecting our water and the public interest turned off the money/power/water spigot to the politically connected Westlands machine. The poisoned lands should be retired, and Westlands shouldn’t be gifted billions of dollars of waters for doing so.

If you think so too, then pop over to Senator Diane Feinstein’s e-mail form and let her know that you think Westlands doesn’t deserve an unprecedented giveaway of public water. Further, the cleanup should be based on the best available science, not the hollow promises of big agriculture — and an organization that discredited itself long, long ago.

Only take a minute.

The Corporate Effect

Every time I post an anti-Westlands/PacifiCorp/Nestle article, I receive an e-mail or two suggesting I’m simply anti-business. That’s not true, but I am willing to be labeled “pro good business.”

If Nestle wants to cut a fair, environmentally sensitive deal with McCloud that doesn’t involve intimidating opponents and speaking with a forked tongue, I say go for it.

And I believe Westlands should simply help clean up the selenium/salt mess because they helped make it (and profited from it). Instead, they’re attempting to grab even more heavily subsidized water (which they can re-sell to urban areas at an obscene profit), which places them firmly in the “predatory company” category.

When PacifiCorp shows an interest in doing the right thing — instead of trying to “maximize shareholder value” at the expense of far more valuable salmon runs, salmon fishermen, and the local economy — then they’ll come off the Underground’s “Axis of Corporate Evil” list.

Believe me, I’d much rather post bikini fishing articles instead of getting worked up at predatory companies.

Until that happy day, see you at the keyboard, Tom Chandler.

[tags]environment, westlands, diane feinstein, kesterson, aquafornia, [/tags]