California's Westlands Water District Could Win Forgiveness for $375 Million Debt

California's Westlands Water District Could Win Forgiveness for $375 Million Debt

SACRAMENTO, CA - Today, House committee legislators will be voting to approve or deny a California irrigation bill that would forgive $375 million worth of debt owed by one of the nation’s largest farm-focused irrigation districts, Westlands Water District.

Approving the plan would, essentially, relieve the federal government of its obligation to provide drainage for each farm in the 600,000-acre Westlands district. According to The Sacramento Bee, the estimated overall costs to the federal government of providing these drainage services is $3.5 billion and counting.

In exchange for taking up the drainage responsibilities, Westlands will be forgiven for the rest of its capital cost debt owed for construction of the Central Valley Project irrigation facilities—now upwards of $375 million. 

David Valadao, U.S. Congressman, California

“In order to move forward with the settlement agreed to by both Westlands and the U.S. Department of Justice last year, this bill has to be passed by Congress,” Republican Representative David Valadao told The Bee prior to the vote. “Doing so will be a positive step in resolving a long-standing drainage dispute and will ultimately save taxpayers billions of dollars.” 

Several other provisions are also a part of the proposed 10-page settlement plan, including the following: 

  • Westlands will pay for a class-action lawsuit filed by farmers against the Interior Department for failure to provide drainage for land
  • Westlands will retire at least 100,000 acres of farmland
  • Westlands will gain ownership of the federal pipes, canals, and pumping plants serving the district 

Today’s vote by the House Natural Resources Committee will likely be approved by House republicans, The Sacramento Bee reports, but the bill will also need to pass through the Senate.

With an initial Congressional vote set to take place today, stay tuned as we continue to cover the developing deal.