California Forum

Using dog whistles to stir up opposition to water-drainage deal

A tractor plows a field in the Westlands Water District in the Central Valley.
A tractor plows a field in the Westlands Water District in the Central Valley. The New York Times

Mark Arax just can’t help himself. In his article, “Desert and farm, water drainage and a new deal in the Central Valley” (Forum, Nov. 27), he uses all the dog whistles he has in his memory bank to stir up opponents of farming in California.

First, there’s the name calling, describing Westlands Water District as the “whale.” Is there a similar word for the tech or entertainment industries that also fuel the California economy?

Then, he makes statements about Westlands’ efforts to secure water for farmers, as if fighting for a reliable water supply to grow food is a crime. The last time I checked, people need to eat, and if the crops are not here, the jobs and income go elsewhere.

Then, there’s the biggest whistle of all, his assertion that farming is “anti-environmental.” No mention of the fact that federal and state policies over the last 25 years intended to protect fish have created an absolute mess of the water delivery system, put agricultural communities throughout the state at risk, and have done nothing to help the fish.


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The article also criticizes an agreement between Westlands and the Obama administration. That agreement resolves a decades-long problem involving drainage facilities for the Central Valley Project, relieves taxpayers of billions of dollars of liability and requires Westlands to take over the responsibility to manage drainage in the future. Neither side got everything they wanted, but the process of negotiation worked.

At a time when many Americans are tired of the governments’ inability to work together to solve problems, this settlement ought to be treated as a model for how to get things done.

A few days after Thanksgiving, Central Valley farmers are proud of their contributions to a holiday feast. If Arax gets his way, be prepared to thank farmers in another state or foreign country instead.

Despite the name calling and misinformation, we’ll continue to work for solutions to the water supply problem. In the meantime, Arax, even though you have a weird way of saying thank you to the people who work to produce food for California … you’re welcome.

Johnny Amaral is deputy general manager for external affairs at Westlands Water District. Contact him at

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