Governor directs more aid to state's water-short areas
After meeting with farmers and elected officials from the western San Joaquin Valley, Gov. Schwarzenegger took action to bring additional relief to the parched region.
The governor asked President Obama to issue a federal disaster declaration for Fresno County and signed an executive order that he said would result in the distribution of $3 million to $4 million a month in emergency food and unemployment assistance for areas wracked by water shortages.
Speaking at a news conference in Mendota last week, Schwarzenegger also expressed support for a proposed, temporary project that could increase the reliability of water exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and he reiterated his commitment to securing a comprehensive water plan for California.
"I will fight, fight, fight and do everything I can to create the immediate water that is needed," Schwarzenegger said, "and also the infrastructure for water."
Observers termed the request for a federal disaster declaration unusual, because those declarations usually come following natural disasters such as floods but not as frequently for drought. A federal declaration could bring direct aid, low-interest loans and other resources to California.
The executive order signed by Schwarzenegger directs the state government to provide temporary, supplemental assistance to local governments and nonprofit organizations that supply food and other help to Californians affected by water shortages. The order also waives the one-week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits, for people unemployed as a direct result of the drought.
Schwarzenegger noted that the unemployment rate in Mendota has reached a "staggering" 41 percent, and that statewide unemployment now stands at 11.5 percent.
The impacts of dry weather have been magnified by regulations and court rulings that directed additional water supplies away from farm and urban uses to benefit protected fish.
The governor criticized the court rulings, saying that "if you start choosing species and the (delta) smelt and salmon over people, there's something wrong."
He said the proposed Two Gates Fish Protection Demonstration Project would address part of that problem, by benefiting delta smelt.
The plan involves installation of two removable gate structures at key locations in the central delta. The gates could be closed at certain times to protect the fish, while allowing additional water to be transported through the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. A description provided by the governor's office said the gates would be temporary facilities designed to be removed after five years.
Schwarzenegger said he would continue negotiations with state legislative leaders, aimed at writing a comprehensive water plan. He said the plan would include additional water storage both above and below ground, plus improved water conveyance.
"We have to improve our infrastructure," Schwarzenegger said. "By the time this infrastructure will be built, our population will be 50 million. We need to feed those 50 million and plant more crops."
(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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