HISTORY
Early Irrigation Development on the West Side
The District is Formed
Water Service Contract Signed
Westlands Merges with Westplains
Federal Water Deliveries Begin
Water Supply & Drainage Issues


Early Irrigation Development on the West Side
Since pre-Columbian times, the Westlands area was known to be part of the uninhabitable Great California Desert. Creeks that ran off into the area provided only intermittent water, thus the only dependable source of moisture for crops was groundwater. California's first legislature started talking about the need for developing year-round irrigation water supplies for the San Joaquin Valley as early as 1850, but planning was limited to the east side . It was to be another 87 years before the Central Valley Project (CVP) would be started as the main source of water for the Valley and an additional 26 years before CVP facilities would bring surface water to the Westlands area.

At the turn of the century, about one of ten homesteaders in today's Westlands area had their own water well. Others hauled water from their neighbors or from the Southern Pacific's coaling station in Pleasant Valley. The first deep well on the west side was drilled just west of present-day Lemoore Naval Air Station by G.T. Willis in 1909. Standing water was at about 50 feet, but Willis went down 700 to 800 feet to get more water. He didn't get enough water to warrant further development of the well.

The first significant irrigation in the Westlands area began about 1915 with the drilling of deep wells by individual operators on large acreages. By 1922, about 33,000 acres of land in today's Westlands was under deep well irrigation. The greatest period of growth of irrigated acreage in the area began about 1936 and gained impetus during World War II.

By the mid-1940's, west side wells were producing 1,000-1,100 gallons of water per minute, making them capable of taking care of about 150 acres of summer crops or 300 acres of fall crops. Farm size ranged from about 1,265 acres on the north end of the present District to 4,275 in the District's midsection.

In 1942, the Westside Landowners Association was formed to urge and help finance studies of the feasibility of developing and constructing water supply systems to serve the west side. The first project was a contract with the Bureau of Reclamation to investigate the possibility of supplying surface water to west side lands from the CVP via Mendota Slough, through an off-stream site at San Luis or some other means.


The District is Formed
In 1952, the owners of 400,000 acres of west side land petitioned the Fresno County Board of Supervisors for the formation of the water district. Among the prime movers in the organizational effort were Jack O'Neill, Russell Giffen, Frank Diener, Harry Baker and Louis Robinson. Following an election by the landowners involved, the Board of Supervisors declared Westlands Water District formed on September 8, 1952.


Water Service Contract Signed
On June 5, 1963, Westlands Water District entered into a long-term water service contract with the federal government providing for surface water delivery over a period of 40 years. The water was to cost no more than $7.50 per acre-foot canal side. The contract also provided for the District 's payment of an additional $.50 per acre-foot of water delivered for drainage service.

In 1963, one pipeline lateral was under construction in the District. It was designed to bring water from the Fresno Slough along Adams Avenue to the San Luis Canal alignment area for construction pursposes. Farmers who had the good fortune to be located along this pipeline were able to get the first surface supplies in 1964, albeit a small amount.


Westlands Merges with Westplains
Westplains Water Storage District, organized in 1962, encompassed 214,000 acres of land lying to the west of the original Westlands Water District and generally west of the present course of the San Luis Canal. Westplains was negotiating for a supply of state-developed water from the San Luis Reservoir but soon learned that the state could only serve a fringe of land along the western edge of their district. By 1964, it was apparent that Westplains would have to look to the federal government for a supplemental surface water supply.

At about the same time, the Department of the Interior decided that a considerable advantage would be gained, through economies of scale in operation and the conservation of water, if Westlands was merged with the Westplains Water Storage District. At the United States' urging, and after negotiations on the terms of the water supply and distribution system contruction contracts, Westlands Water District and Westplains Water Storage District merged by act of the California Legislature on June 29, 1965. The enlarged Westlands Water District encompassed about 592,000 irrigated acres at the time, although additional lands have been annexed to the District since then.


Federal Water Deliveries Begin
In 1961, the federal government signed a joint-venture agreement with the State of California for federal construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project (CVP). The CVP remains one of the largest public works projects ever conceived and built by man. Groundbreaking of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project took place in 1962. The San Luis Canal was completed in 1968 and Westlands began receiving water deliveries thereafter.


Water Supply & Drainage Issues
The District has experienced a decrease in its water supply since the drought that began in 1987. Drought conditions as well as environmental regulations have led the Bureau of Reclamation to dramatically reduce the amount of water it delivers to Westlands, to the point where today, the District can expect to receive only about 50 percent of its contractual water supply in an average water year.

Despite these chronic water shortages, the family owned farms within the Westlands Water District are among the most productive and water-efficient in the world, largely because they have employed cutting edge technological innovations. Still, the continuing water supply shortages limit their ability to compete in the increasingly unforgiving international marketplace.

Westlands also faces significant drainage problems. Approximately one third of the district does not drain properly. As a result, salt present in the water imported from the Delta accumulates in the soil. The federal government knew about drainage problems in Westlands when the District was formed and Congress specifically authorized drainage service to the farmers on the Valley’s west side when it authorized the Central Valley Project’s San Luis Unit in 1960. When the District entered into a water supply contract with Reclamation in 1963, the provision of drainage service was expressly included as a contract term. Due to environmental concerns and political opposition, the United States has yet to meet its obligation to provide drainage service to the San Luis Unit, including Westlands. As a result, increasing amounts of otherwise productive land have been rendered useless.






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