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California in Brief | FRESNO

GAO says farmers owe $450 million

January 18, 2008|From the Associated Press

A federal watchdog agency said Thursday that some of the San Joaquin Valley's largest farms owe the government hundreds of millions of dollars for the cost of building California's water infrastructure.

The report issued Thursday by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office says four large irrigation contractors owe the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation nearly $450 million for building pumps and canals.

The Westlands Water District, a coalition of giant agribusinesses in the San Joaquin Valley, owes an additional $48 million, according to the report.

The farmers are in the midst of negotiating a proposal with the bureau that would forgive some of the cost of building the Central Valley Project, a vast irrigation system that serves the state's most fertile farmland.

The report makes public for the first time the official size of that debt.

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