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District Trims Water Needs to Aid Bird Refuge

September 29, 1985|LARRY B. STAMMER | Times Staff Writer

In an effort to halt the flow of agricultural waste water into the endangered Kesterson National Wildlife Reservoir, the Westlands Water District on Friday unveiled plans for reducing the need for fresh water through more efficient irrigation.

Unless the measures are taken, the district warned, it would be forced to order farmers in western Fresno County to plug their agricultural waste water drains. Over a period of four to five years waste water would back up to the root zones of the crops, resulting in lower yields on 42,000 acres. The crops are valued at $47 million annually.

Currently, the waste water runs into the San Luis Drain, which carries it to Kesterson reservoir near Los Banos in Merced County. The Interior Department has given farmers until next June 30 to stop using Kesterson as a sump because high levels of selenium found in the waste water has caused death and birth deformities among waterfowl and other wildlife there.

Two Parts to Proposal

Basically, there are two parts to the Westlands Water District proposal. First, the district proposes that farmers wait until early next year to soak their cropland, a step usually undertaken in November or December before spring planting. The soaking, known as pre-irrigation, is required to build up the water content of the soil before planting because irrigating only during the growing season is insufficient.

In the event of heavy rainfall this winter, there may be less of a need for fresh irrigation water during the soaking process.

At present, contracts with the Bureau of Reclamation require farmers to use their fresh irrigation water by Dec. 31 or lose their allotment. The district is asking the Bureau of Reclamation to agree to carry over this year's allotment to next year.

Expects Approval

The bureau is expected to act on the request next week, and Westlands spokesman Don Upton said in a telephone interview from his Fresno office that he expected it to be approved. A spokesman for the bureau said the matter is now under review in Washington.

Under the second part of its plan, the district proposes to dump 500 acre-feet of waste water on the ground along the San Luis Drain. The bureau said the district must still obtain a permit from Fresno County to do that.

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