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'A Settlement That's All Wet'

August 24, 1986

Clearly we are in disagreement over the wisdom of entering into a settlement of the Westlands lawsuit. I would like to point out, however, that in your editorial (July 28), "A Settlement That's All Wet," The Times missed some key issues associated with the settlement.

Your editorial was in error in suggesting that the litigation could result in an entirely new contract for all of the water delivered to Westlands. The validity of the 1963 contract was never in question. Under any conceivable outcome, Westlands would continue to receive 900,000 acre-feet of water at the contract rate of $8 per acre-foot.

As the majority of the landowners within Westlands need no additional distribution or drainage service, they could effectively block moves by those who do need that service to amend the district's contract. Unless the district amends its contract, it is not required to come under the reform act. The suit offers no real leverage to force the district into amending its contract.

Interior has not contended that the 156,000 acres of land outside of the so-called Krulitz service area were never made a legal part of the water district. Indeed, some of those lands have been part of Westlands since it was formed in 1952. The other lands at issue were merged into Westlands by an act of the California Legislature in 1965. Former Solicitor Leo Krulitz overturned opinions that had been in force since before the initial contract with Westlands Water District was signed in 1963, when he concluded that only the lands shown in a 1956 feasibility report on the San Luis Unit could be served by federally developed water.

On June 17, 1986, after a thorough review of the relevant law and facts, the department's current solicitor, Ralph Tarr, provided a written analysis of the Krulitz opinion. Solicitor Tarr found that the former solicitor had incorrectly ignored these consistent administrative interpretations, which had been followed for more than 15 years by the department. Solicitor Tarr concluded that, by its terms, the authorizing legislation did not prohibit service to the entire Westlands Water District as currently constituted.

While the settlement does not provide the long-term solution to drainage problems, it does establish a mechanism to provide $100 million in up-front money, should the department build additional drainage facilities in the valley.


Secretary of the Interior


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