Drought: Declaration calls attention to chronic problem


Issue Date: January 22, 2014
By Kate Campbell
Hundreds of Central Valley residents rally on the steps of the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to find solutions to California’s ongoing water crisis. Many who’ve spent their entire lives helping grow food crops say without water, there’s no future for them in farming.
Photos/Kate Campbell
Hundreds of Central Valley residents rally on the steps of the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to find solutions to California’s ongoing water crisis. Many who’ve spent their entire lives helping grow food crops say without water, there’s no future for them in farming.
Photos/Kate Campbell

After Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency in California due to severe drought, farm and water leaders said one of its main effects will be to raise awareness of the state's chronic water problems.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said he hopes the action will give state agencies increased flexibility to act in people's best interest, and said the federal government should follow the governor's lead in taking immediate action to provide flexibility in regulations that could hinder water transfers.

"Farmers across California face wrenching decisions today, as well as in coming months," Wenger said. "Will they have enough water to plant crops, to water their livestock, and keep trees and vines alive? An additional concern is how many people they may have to lay off as a result of water shortages. Any way the state and federal governments can provide assistance in adding water to the system will help."

The governor's office said the emergency proclamation gives state water officials "more flexibility to manage supply throughout California under drought conditions."

The executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies, Tim Quinn, said the governor's declaration enhances public attention to the drought.

"Californians tend to take notice when the governor highlights an issue, and right now there is no topic more critical than our state's water supply," Quinn said.

Farm Bureau President Wenger said he hopes the governor's action will also bring attention to the longer-term water supply crisis California faces, which is compounded by population growth, environmental regulations and now, by drought.

"We don't know if this is Year 3 of a three-year drought or Year 3 of a longer drought," Wenger said. "We do know that long droughts can be a feature of the California climate—and we know one way to insulate ourselves from droughts is to store more water when we can.

"While he leads California through this drought, we urge Gov. Brown to lead the campaign for new water storage," he added.

The governor's drought declaration came a day after a rally outside the state Capitol, attended by hundreds of San Joaquin Valley residents demanding lawmakers take action to ease the worsening water crisis.

Speakers not only called for the emergency drought declaration, they also stressed it's time to put before voters a water bond that meets the needs of every Californian and that includes water storage.

Several farmers attending the rally indicated they've already laid off workers and, depending on how dire the water situation becomes, they said more layoffs may be needed.

Tom Stefanopulos farms more than 17,000 drip-irrigated acres near Mendota in Fresno County and, in a normal water year, employs more than 2,000 workers during the height of the growing season. Stefanopulos said in recent weeks the farm's workforce has been reduced by 400.

"We have plans for further reductions depending on the availability of water," he said. "We've been farming in this area for nearly a century. This is our community and we hate to see this happen.

"People have got to get serious about solving the state's water problems," he said. "I'm here with our workers to support that effort."

John Arreguin, human resources manager for Madera-based Sierra Valley Almonds, said the processor just laid off 21 employees and will probably have to let more workers go in coming weeks.

"In this economy, you've got to run lean to survive," Arreguin said. "The reason we're here is to put the politicians' feet to the fire."

"It's insane that we're in this position with water," said beekeeper Steve Godlin, who is Tulare County Farm Bureau president. "The lack of political action is wearing us out."

The rally was sponsored by the California Latino Water Coalition, Nisei Farmers League, Latino Caucus of the League of California Cities and the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Fresno, Madera and Tulare County Farm Bureaus provided rally support as farmers joined workers on the Capitol steps.

Speakers at the rally also stressed the need for funding clean drinking water projects for disadvantaged communities and the importance of funding to help restore the delta.

Following the governor's drought declaration, Wenger noted that California has an opportunity to invest in new supply by recrafting a water bond scheduled for the ballot this year.

"Farm Bureau looks forward to working with the governor and the Legislature to enhance future water supplies and cushion California from future droughts," he said.

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.