MEETING NOTES: Westlands approves transfers and hears updates on water conditions

January 19, 2024
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Westlands Water District in western Fresno County. Source: Databasin
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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Meeting: Westlands Water District Board Meeting

Date: January 18, 2023


Background: Westlands Water District is one of the largest agricultural districts in the country encompassing more than 600,000 acres in western Fresno County and Kings County. It receives surface water from the federal Central Valley Project via the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The water is pumped out of the delta and stored in San Luis Reservoir. 

Water report: At its January 18 board meeting, Kristin White, deputy regional director for the Bureau of Reclamation, spoke about current conditions. The board received updates about groundwater sustainability and board members voted on multiple water transfers. 

The Bureau received new funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act but White did not specify how much. The Bureau will decide how those funds are dispersed in the spring.

White noted that conditions are much drier so far than everyone had hoped considering it is an El Niño weather pattern year. 

The Bureau’s meetings with south-of-delta agencies have been shifted, White said. In the past, the Bureau would meet with water agencies in March or April once all potential wet months had passed. This year, the Bureau has already started meeting with agencies to prepare for a potential dry year, she said. 

Board members asked White if she could reveal Westlands’ upcoming allocation. White would not give an answer beyond jokingly responding with, “Somewhere between 0-100%.”  

There are storms forecasted so it’s possible January could end at or above average precipitation, White noted. 

Supply report: Russ Freeman, Deputy General Manager of Resources at Westlands, gave updates about the district’s current water supply:

  • Total supply for year to date is 1.4 million acre feet with about 935,000 acre feet used so far. About 472,000 acre feet remains. 
  • Projections show about 69,000 acre feet used in January. 
  • Groundwater use has been minimal with about 9,500 acre feet used for the water year to date (Oct. 1, 2023 to present) so far. Projected to come out at less than 11,000 acre feet for the full water year. 

Groundwater report: Kitty Campbell, director of Westlands’ Groundwater Sustainability Agency, presented updates about groundwater conditions: 

  • The district recharged 45,000 acre feet of groundwater in December. 
  • There are currently 230 recharge projects operating in the district. 
  • The district is trending to recharge more than 300,000 acre feet for the year. 

Transfers: Three water transfers by Westlands members were presented to the board. 

Maricopa Orchards, requested to transfer 20,000 acre feet of water to Semitropic Water Storage District in Kern County to bank underground. Semitropic is enforcing a 50% “leave behind” rate, meaning only 50% of the water banked with it will be accessible to Maricopa when the company wants to use it later on. Board members explained this is not uncommon in wet years. If not stored, the excess water would be lost, said Kevin Assemi, board member. It’s a “use it or lose it,” approach, he said. 

The board approved the transfer unanimously. 

The second transfer was for 2,000 acre feet from the Wonderful Company to bank with the Kern Water Bank. The board approved the transfer unanimously. 

The third transfer request was made by a Westlands member called A-Ok Farms which wanted to transfer water permanently to Homer LLC. in Kern County. That transfer request was denied by the board. 

How to attend: Westlands Water District board meetings are held the 3rd Tuesday of the month. Interested persons may attend in person at 286 W. Cromwell Avenue, Fresno, California 93711, or via Zoom. Its meeting page has links to agendas and Zoom.

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

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