The Westlands Water District has reached an agreement with the federal government in a decades-long dispute over who is responsible for water runoff from westside growers’ fields. In the deal, Westlands will assume responsibility for managing the wastewater, which is often laced with toxic chemicals like selenium from the soil. Westlands will also agree to retire at least 100,000 acres of farmland. The water district estimates that a federally-run cleanup plan would have cost the government around $3.5 billion. It’s unclear how much the district will spend on the drainage solution.
In exchange, the federal government will forgive around $350 million in debt that Westlands growers still owe for the construction of the Central Valley Project. The government will also cap water deliveries to Westlands at 75 percent of its contracted amount.
The dispute began after the federal government stopped construction on a canal in 1985 that would have taken the wastewater to San Francisco Bay. The San Luis Drain was canceled after contaminated wastewater caused birth defects and deaths among birds at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge in 1983. The deal still needs to be approved by Congress.