Historic rights growers are not part of Westlands Water District

Posted by Mark Grossi on May 29, 2014 

Water flows out of Friant Dam, headed to the Valley's west side.

FRESNO BEE FILE PHOTO

By now you may have seen water pouring out of Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River. It's headed to west San Joaquin Valley farmers who have historic rights to the water.

In answer to questions from a few readers, those west-side farmers are not in Westlands Water District, the 600,000-acre district based mainly in west Fresno County.

I have made that point in the past, but I will make it a little clearer here. Westlands is not part of this.

The west-siders with historic rights to the river are represented by the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Authority, based in the Merced County community of Los Banos. The authority spans about 240,000 acres from Patterson in the north to Mendota in the south.

The farmers are in four areas -- Central California Irrigation District, San Luis Canal Co., Firebaugh Canal Water District and Columbia Canal Co. They are sometimes known as the four entities in the water community. 

Their water rights were established in the 1800s by Henry Miller of the Miller and Lux cattle empire. 

But decades ago, these landowners traded their San Joaquin water for Northern California river water. That allowed federal authorities to send the San Joaquin's water to east Valley farmers. 

But if the Northern California water is not available -- which is the situation this year -- federal authorities send San Joaquin water from Millerton Lake. That has never happened until this year.

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