Corporate Ag Giant Goes Rogue: Westlands Water District Quits Association of California Water Agencies

Last week, Westlands Water District terminated its membership in the state’s largest coalition of public water purveyors, the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), further isolating itself from mainstream negotiations over water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

Westlands, the largest federal water customer in California, officially described the split as a financial decision, saying the District needs to focus its resources on lawsuits against wildlife protections in the Delta, and can no longer afford the $19,000 annual membership fee. However, in a February 3rd letter to ACWA’s leadership, Westlands President Jean P. Sagouspe made it clear that ACWA’s politics are the problem, complaining that ACWA’s policies no longer represent Westlands or further its interests.

As the statewide association of water agencies that manage water supplies for tens of millions of Californians, ACWA has chosen to engage cooperatively in negotiations over water rights in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, recognizing that unilateral action is counterproductive to creating ecologically and economically sustainable solutions for California’s water needs.

In contrast, Westlands Water District has shown disregard for important scientific information about the Delta ecosystems and impatience with public negotiations, striking deals with powerful politicians behind closed doors and aggressively pursuing a litigious rather than collaborative approach. While such tactics are hard to legitimize within a large association of water agencies, they may be easier to pursue solo. If successful, they could prove disastrous for California’s economy and environment.