Supporters in the Battle for Water - KMPH FOX 26 | Central San Joaquin Valley News Source

Supporters in the Battle for Water

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By Rich Rodriguez and Winston Whitehurst

The battle over water has boiled for decades.

In recent years, new voices have sounded off for agriculture and the people who toil in the fields.

We spotlight two groups with contrasting styles: one is grassroots, the other is political.

The Central Valley Tea Party includes people from all walks of life.

Its creed is limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets.

"This is the government coming in and imposing its will and saying that farmers basically can't farm because of a fish and to us that's neither fiscally responsible and it definitely doesn't show limited government," says Tea Party member, Ben Bergquam.

The Central Valley Tea Party held its first major rally in Tulare in early summer.

TEA stands for "taxed enough already", but taxes took a back seat to agriculture as members began riding shotgun with farmers.

They took bus trips to the Bay Area.

Their mission was to spread the word how farmers and farm workers are hurting, due to the drought and environmental regulations.

"To me, it's a life and death of the valley issue.  The infrastructure, the foundation of the valley is water.  It is agriculture.  If agriculture dies in the valley the valley dies, the cities die, the opportunity dies," Bergquam says.

The Central Valley Tea Party will host a national rally in Fresno later this month.

Mario Santoyo wears two hats, as the assistant manger for the Friant Water Authority, and director of the California Latino Water Coalition.

The group came together following a meeting in Selma with Governor Schwarzenegger back in March of 2007.

"Not seeing anything done for forty years the opportunity was there for us to get engaged.  And once you're committed in that regard you gotta stick to it," Santoyo says.

Familiar faces with the Coalition work the halls of the state Capitol.  Their most familiar face is their chairman, comedian Paul Rodriguez.

"You have elected officials, you have members of water districts, labor unions, farmers and that's what really makes this coalition what it is, makes it that strong," says Henry T. Perea, Fresno City Councilman.

Members of the Latino Water Coalition admit in the beginning they had no identity, but things have changed in the past two years.

Just before the water package passed, they met with Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico.

They also have the ear of the local state legislators.

It's no secret the governor supports their efforts.

Just outside his office is a large photo montage of the groups major march for water in the valley back in April.

The governor signed the state water bond bill Monday at Millerton Lake.

It was no coincidence that members of the California Latino Water Coalition had front row.

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