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Environment

Drainage Key To Reported Deal Between Farmers And Feds

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Amy Quinton
/
CPR

A deal between a valley water district and the federal government could help resolve a decade’s long dispute over land on the Valley’s Westside. 

According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Westlands Water District would take on the task of providing irrigation drainage, which had been a federal responsibility. In exchange, the government would forgive debt that the agency owed for construction of the Central Valley Project.

Drainage has been a problem in the area for decades because soil in the area is filled with minerals like salt, selenium and boron. In the 1980’s drainage water from the area led to an environmental disaster at the Kesterson Wildlife Refuge and birth defects in birds and other wildlife. Those minerals also can contaminate farmland.

Dan Munk is a farm advisor who studies cotton production, irrigation and soil quality for the Fresno County UC Cooperative Extension.

Munk: “There can be some wildlife impacts, but today mostly the problems we get posed with have to do with the production of agricultural systems.”

Munk says the agreement likely means more fallowed land by Westlands and concentrated growing by farmers.

Munk: “On a portion of your farm you would only irrigate the best upslope areas with high quality irrigation water and the lower lying areas you could actually use highly salt tolerant crops.”

He says the naturally saline infused water has major effects on crops like almonds, but is less intrusive to similar crops like pistachios.  

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