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Leaving the Board

We think we're going to see more resignations from water boards across the State of California as the deadline for implementing SGMA gets closer.

Aug 31, 2018

Below is a letter from Sarah Woolf to the Board of Directors at the Westlands Water District announcing her resignation from the Board.  She has been a positive and effective advocate for agriculture particularly on water issues, and part of a family operation that has deep roots in the San Joaquin Valley. 

We think we're going to see more resignations from water boards across the State of California as the deadline for implementing SGMA (the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) gets closer. 

The State of California has mandated that water boards solve an unsolvable water problem.  Farmers aren't going to be able to pump any more water out of the underground than they can put back in, and the state hasn't given these water boards any tools to solve the problem, i.e., dams or surface water or human decisions on water policy in the Delta.  If there isn't additional surface water from dams or the Delta, the only solution for farmers is to fallow some parts of their land.

In addition, another function of the State Board is to appropriate 40% of the unimpaired flows off of the Stanislaus, Merced, and Toulumne Rivers.  Thus, they are taking away the primary tool to mitigate the underground pumping.  It is only a matter of time before the State Board comes knocking on the rest of agriculture's doors. 

In a tactic usually found in dictatorships, the agency that decides if an area has a suitable sustainability plan is the State Board.  If it decides an area does not, then the State Board takes control over the area's water. 

As water boards get deeper and deeper and closer and closer to the looming deadline of this unsolvable problem and have to tell their member farmers that they have to cut the acreage they're farming, they're going to find themselves in the crosshairs.  There's going to be a lot of heat on any and all decision-makers when it comes to these very critical economic decisions.  If farmers don't have water, their land is worthless.  If they lose half their acreage, their farm value is cut in half.  How many board members will want to be this messenger?  Why sit on a board when you can see this train coming at you?  The letter below from Sarah Woolfe to the Westlands Board may be the tip of the iceberg. 

Dear Westlands Board of Directors, Landowners and Growers

After six years of serving on your behalf as a Director on the Westlands Water District Board of Directors, it is time for me to step aside and allow the remaining Directors and their General Manager to a new person to replace me.  This letter will serve as my resignation as Director effective immediately.
Unfortunately, my tenure at Westlands has been tenuous.  It has been an uphill battle to be heard by the establishment in an attempt to direct our district in a more collaborative and progressive direction.  This effort has resulted in an ongoing effort by some to find flaws in any activity I partake in Westlands or in other water districts I have interests in.  The ongoing scrutiny on me and my family has impacted our ability to farm and operate as all other growers are able to do in Westlands.  The rumors and accusations directed against me both inside and outside the Boardroom I simply will no longer accept.
Westlands has a long history of encouraging its landowners and growers to manage their own use and access to various water supplies.  That has been a privilege and a challenge.  Due to my many years farming and working with Westlands, first on behalf of Congressman Dooley, then as the Public Relations person, and now on the Board of Directors I have gained a vast knowledge of the history and workings of the District.  My goal has always been to help Westlands growers and landowners as well as staff figure out solutions to moving water around the District in the most efficient way possible.  In these efforts, I have always obtained my own legal counsel in addition to the internal requirements of Westlands, for which I have been more than happy to comply.  I have also willingly recused myself from any situation that had any remote possibility of a conflict of interest.
As the mounting challenge to get enough water supply to Agriculture persists, I think I can be more effective serving the broader community away from the Westlands Water District Board of Directors and working with individual farmers on solutions with their neighbors. As was said back in 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2016, we are not going to get anywhere fighting over the scraps.  We have to be working on big sollutions together as a single group. I hope to help growers get to that broader solution.
Sarah Woolf

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