Our Klamath Basin Water Crisis
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Obama to Valley agriculture: Dry up
Apr. 16, 2009 Fresno Bee Editorial,
The Obama administration dispatched Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to California Wednesday to announce $260 million in economic stimulus funding for water projects. The most obvious question was how much would go to drought relief in the San Joaquin Valley, especially since Salazar was in California at the same time as the March for Water was being conducted on the Valley’s west side.
The answer was a simple one from Salazar — the vast majority of this money won't be seen in the farmworker-dominated communities that are experiencing 40% unemployment because of drought conditions. But there was plenty of money for projects in Northern California for environmental uses.
No wonder so many San Joaquin Valley farmers, farmworkers and others in agriculture-related businesses are so angry with the federal government on the water issue. Officials in the Obama administration, including Salazar, don’t understand San Joaquin Valley agriculture and don’t seem to want to learn.
The four-day water march from Mendota to the San Luis Dam would have been the perfect opportunity for Obama officials to throw a little money the Valley’s way to let residents know that the pain being felt in communities such as Mendota is acknowledged in Washington, D.C. The symbolism would have been significant.
Instead, Salazar stiffed the Valley’s west side. This is one more indication of the region’s lack of political clout. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said the federal stimulus money going to other water projects was “very disappointing.” He should have said he was outraged, and the Obama administration had abandoned some of California’s poorest communities by ignoring the west side in this round of stimulus payouts.
“There is absolutely nothing in there that would benefit us,” said Sarah Woolf, a spokeswoman for Westlands Water District. Valley farm-water agencies wanted funding for fish screens in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that would allow for more water to be pumped southward. They also wanted money for a pipeline to move water between Valley districts.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein says there will be some money for the region in the $40 million drought-relief portion of the package for Western states. She contends that most of that money will go to California and some is intended for the Valley. We appreciate Feinstein's efforts seeking drought relief, but we question the sincerity of the White House in dealing with agricultural issues in the Valley.
Many farmers get water from the estuary, but declining fish populations have led to pumping restrictions. The curtailments, combined with the three-year drought, have left growers with little water to grow crops, and that has resulted in massive joblessness in west-side communities.
Salazar went on a helicopter tour of the Delta Wednesday with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who praised the funding announcement. But the governor also said these funds will not immediately help Valley farmers, and the communities that rely on agriculture, and they need help now.
Schwarzenegger is correct, and it was good that he let Salazar know his water announcement didn't go far enough. We'd also like to see more passion out of the governor on the plight of the Valley communities during this drought.
Schwarzenegger is scheduled to meet the marchers at San Luis Reservoir Friday morning, and speak at a rally. It wouldn’t be wise for the governor to praise Salazar’s action when he speaks to the farmers and farmworkers who just completed the 50-mile march for water.
There’s a lot of anger in the Valley right now, and there's good reason for it.
Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:14 AM Pacific
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