California’s water scarcity upends politics of powerful farm district

For decades, the Westlands Water District in California — the largest district in the nation — has led the fight against environmental rules that restrict the flow of water from California’s rivers to its farmers. It sued the government, lobbied friendly politicians and took on critics wherever it found them, even in Congress, reports Dan Charles in FERN’s latest story produced in collaboration with KQED’s The California Report. Now severe drought and water restrictions have forced a change in this approach.

Late in the afternoon on Nov. 14, a historic email landed in the inboxes of hundreds of California farmers whose land lies within the district. The email revealed that the old guard at Westlands had been swept aside in voting for board seats at the farmer-run organization. “The winning candidates, part of a self-described Change Coalition, are demanding that the district spend less time fighting legal and political battles and more time figuring out ways to live with less water,” Charles writes.

“The vote is a sign that even in the most conservative parts of California’s Central Valley — the biggest single source of America’s fresh produce — attitudes are shifting. Farmers are coming to terms with the fact that their operations will have to change — and in many areas, shrink — to survive chronic drought, depleted aquifers and climate change,” the story says.

Read the story at FERN on listen to it at KQED’s The California Report.