Growers in the Westlands Water District hope congressional approval of a deal with the federal government could resolve a long-standing problem on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley - drainage. However final approval of the deal reached in 2015 remains both elusive and controversial.
The deal involves Westlands accepting responsibility for managing drainage of agricultural runoff, which is contaminated with salt and other minerals. In exchange, the government would forgive $375 million in debt, making the district's water allocation permanent. Westlands would also agree to retire some land and see a cut in the size of its water allocation as part of the deal. As Emily Benson of High Country News reports, the legislation was almost included in the recent defense authorization bill that passed Congress last month. She joined us to talk about the agreement, and why it remains controversial.