Central Valley Water Crisis - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Central Valley Water Crisis

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By: Rich Rodriguez

Mark Twain coined the phrase "whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over." It's a fight that's gone on for decades.   But this time the California debate has elevated to a national stage. It all came to a head this year.  A third dismal rainfall year in the valley and a below normal snowpack in the Sierra. 

Farmers on the westside of the valley depend on federally delivered water but a lack of snowfall forced the feds to drastically cut water supplies. Growers had to change their planting plans. Thousands of acres were fallowed.  Farm workers lost their jobs.  Food lines became a common sight in Selma, Huron, Mendota and Firebaugh.

Farmworkers and farmers claim the water crisis is man made. Westside growers get their water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.  A pumping station near Tracy transfers the water south down the Delta Mendota Canal.  But a tiny fish, the Delta Smelt was being sucked into the giant pumps.  The smelt is protected under the endangered species act.  Legal and regulatory steps were taken to protect the Delta's fragile ecosystem which lead to a near shutdown of the federal and state Delta water pumps.

Farmers and federal lawmakers appealed to the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar who has visited the valley twice.  Salazar said, "the reality of this is we do not have those solutions at hand.   The pain people felt this year may continue into the future.   I don't want to raise expectations or wave a magic wand and say this is gonna be better next year."

Valley Congressmen are united in their fight to change the rules.  The water crisis has also created new allies.  The Tea Party, tea standing for taxes enough already has sent contingents to the Bay Area and Sacramento to stand up for farmers.  Another group flexing political muscle is the Latino Water Coalition.  Members have been lobbying in Sacramento and Washington D.C.  Its spokesman is Comedian Paul Rodriguez who has grown impatient with Interior Secretary Salazar.  Rodriguez told reporters, "he told us in there it's gonna take three years were moving as fast as we can. Who in this valley has three years?"

Governor Schwarzenegger has also beat the political drums for water reform.  He's pushed hard to fix california's water infra-structure.   He's leaned hard on the legislature to put a water bond measure on the state ballot in 2010.   A vote in Sacramento could come anyday.  

Sean Hannity gets the credit for giving the Central Valley Water Crisis a national audience. In September he brought his cable show to the fallow fields of the westside to spotlight the problem.  

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