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Michael Shires Releases Study on Economic Impact of the Westlands Water District on the Local and Regional Economy

March 23, 2022  | 2 min read

Michael Shires - Pepperdine School of Public Policy

Michael Shires, vice dean for strategy and online programs and associate professor of public policy at the Pepperdine School of Public Policy, published an update to his 2016 report, The Economic Impact of Westlands Water District on the Regional and Local Economy

Segments Covered in this Report

  • Westlands Water District is an Important Contributor to the Local And State Economies
  • Westlands Water District is an Important Contributor To the Regional And National Economies
  • Westland Water District’s Water Supplies are Highly Variable
  • The Region Surrounding the Westlands Water District is Relatively Poor and Agriculture is the Key to Economic Opportunity
  • Growers in the Westlands Water District Continue to be a Key National Resource for a Quality and Safe Food Supply
  • COVID-19 and its Aftermath Also Impact the Economic Potential of the Westlands Water District’s Contributions to the Economy

According to Shires, “This study is important because it shows us that the crops produced in this region are critical to the national food supply and how that supply may be threatened. It also shows how the production of these crops creates jobs that are critical to alleviating the poverty that permeates this region. We are at a critical turning point in water policy, both in California and nationally, and these considerations need to be an essential part of that conversation, even as we pursue our broader goals.”

The report, which focused on the nation’s largest agricultural water district, found that agriculture continues to be important to the local and national economies. Water from the district led to almost $2 billion of crops, resulting in more than $4.7 billion of economic activity and more than 35,000 jobs in the region. These jobs are even more important in a local economy where poverty rates are high and other indicators of household wealth are far below statewide averages.  

The study also explored how COVID-19, water supply restrictions, inflation, the supply chain disruption, and hydrologic trends can threaten this important production, endangering our national food supply. Farmers within the district, for example, grow 5.4 percent of the nation’s production of fresh vegetables and melons. Statewide, California growers produce 80 percent of the nation’s produce. The report noted significant declines in that production as less water is available and more acreage is fallowed.

Shires added, “This needs to be a national priority. The Central Valley is the only place in the United States where we can grow crops at this scale. We must be sure these critical contributions can be sustained.”