The Human Cost of the Central Valley's Water Crisis: Anna's Story
By Monty Torres
The Central Valley's water crisis. There's more water flowing this year, but the crisis is still here.
In Fresno next week, a judge will open hearings on cases challenging the federal water restrictions to protect fish. Many sat that's what caused the crisis.
Judge Oliver Wanger has made it clear the law does not allow him to weigh economic factors against the preservation of a species, but as KMPH 26's Monty Torres found, the judge says he may be able to consider the "the human cost" that water restrictions are exacting on the people of the west valley.
"Sometimes we don't have money to buy food for our kids too."
This is "Anna."
"Is it very hard for them too? Yes, because they sometimes ask me for food and we don't have any," sobbed the 20 year old mother of three who is too ashamed to give her real name, or to show her face
"The only thing that they ask me for is for food or for milk. It's hard when they ask you and you don't have it there? Yes. It's very hard and I just try to show them it's going to be okay but sometimes I just can't. I just break down."
"Anna" is one of an increasing number of west valley residents seeking help at crisis centers like Firebaugh's Carmen Meza center.
"Do they see you cry? Yes", Anna responds. "What do they do when that happens? The only thing they do is they tell me it's going to be okay. Just they say the only thing that they tell me is, mommy it's going to be ok. It's ok."
Across the west valley there are now thousands of Anna's.
"We've noticed about a 12 % increase over the last 6–8 months," says Shirley Sanchez, Executive Director of Fresno's Resource Center for Survivors of Sexual Assault and Violence. "We started noticing a trend prior to that but when we gathered our stats it showed a good 12 % increase in domestic violence, yes."
"I think there's been a pretty dramatic change," agrees Dr. James Smurr of United Health Clinics in Mendota.
After 16 years of practicing medicine in the west valley, Smurr thought he'd seen just about everything... but…
"Have you ever seen it like this before? No, not in the time I've been here."
Hundreds of patients of all ages suddenly foregoing needed treatments and medications, putting their health and lives at risk.
"Literally for some of these folks it's become an issue of it's either the medicine or the food. that type of thing." "You've seen that?" "Yes," says Smurr.
Strong individuals and families he's known for years, breaking under the stresses of long–term joblessness and the west valley's economic devastation, and Smurr says he knows exactly when it started.
"So this up tick took place especially around when?" "Right about the time that the water cutbacks were initiated. The water restrictions." "Is there any doubt in your mind as to the connection between the water restrictions and what you 're seeing? No not at all, just because temporally it was pretty dramatic. I mean it was just a domino effect."
But is it still possible to contain that effect and stop the damage? Can anything bring the lifting of those restrictions in time to prevent another year of suffering?
The one person who can make that decision, U.S. District Court Judge Oliver Wanger, will begin next week to determine whether the law and the "degradation of the human environment" of west Fresno county, "the human cost", will allow him to do so.
As for Anna, her children, and thousands like her, it's a cost they already know all too well.
"Are you confident it's going to be ok? I don't think it's going to be ok. Because, if we don't have work here, what are we going to do?"
Tomorrow night in Part Two of, "The Human Cost of the Valley's Water Crisis,"
Monty will show the many ways west valley communities are paying a heavy toll.
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