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Westlands Again Pays High Price for Supplemental Water Due to Drought

2015 was another remarkable year for water supplies. Senior water rights were curtailed in some areas, and Central Valley Project (“CVP”) water users again received a zero percent allocation. State Water Project (“SWP”) supplies were not as dire as 2014, but they were not stellar either. The California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) announced the 2015 initial SWP allocation at 10% and later raised it to 20%.

With supplies so constrained, market transfers were limited.

Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the United States, leased approximately 160,000 AF, ultimately providing 110,118 AF of supplemental water to irrigators who had requested it. Of the total volume leased, around 149,000 AF came from North-of-the-Delta supplies. After accounting for a 35% Delta carriage loss, the district received 97,000 AF. The water was supplied primarily from Sacramento River Settlement Contractors, the Yuba River Accord, and San Joaquin tributary agencies (who have senior water rights and groundwater supplies). Another 8,000 AF came from Tulare Lake Basin Water Storage District, who is an SWP contractor. The balance came in a number of small transactions from CVP contractors.

The district paid an average price of $1,055/AF (after accounting for the Delta carriage loss). That cost, along with a $195/AF O&M and conveyance charge, was passed on to the irrigators.

The price for the water is comparable to what Westlands paid in 2014, but is about three times higher than 2013, and five times higher than the district paid during the period from 2000-2012.

Drought and the Shasta Lake temperature control plan presented a high level of difficulty for water transfers. According to a representative from Westlands, “Without extreme flexibility from all parties [the district] wouldn’t have gotten most of this water.”


Written by Marta L. Weismann