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Water wars

"Water wars" Continued...

Issue: "Pro-baby," Jan. 30, 2010

Some of those reallocations, such as the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement, have raised eyebrows across the state. Projected to cost between $1 billion and $2.5 billion in the cash-strapped state, its aim is to revive the largely dry San Joaquin River and restock it with salmon. Executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, Ryan Jacobsen, says he can't help but question such decisions: "So a ton of water that was previously used for irrigation purposes is now going to be used to bring more salmon to the river? You have tax dollars and water that were used to generate farm jobs, increase economic activity, and produce food the entire world eats that are now being transferred to a recreational project. You have to ask, is that a wise move?"

With the recent shifts in the water supply, 46 percent of California's developed water is currently apportioned for environmental use-with 43 percent going to agriculture (the remainder goes to urban use).

Shuler says his major concern is that the industry that produces food and jobs receives the water it needs: "These are all economic issues and they need to be dealt with in a rational fashion as opposed to an emotional approach of wanting to save every little species irrespective of the impact it has on man." He adds one overriding question: "Why, when considering how to help different animals, wouldn't humans be considered part of that calculation?"

Scott Foth, managing director at a fertilizer supply company in the small community of Five Points, describes scenes of human devastation he sees these days: "People are standing in food lines that I've never seen in food lines before. They've got food lines in Kerman, in San Joaquin, Firebaugh, Mendota. I'm talking about lines three to four people wide extending around the building."

The pain is rippling outward and will continue, Foth predicts. He says businesses like his that are ancillaries of the farming industry are the first pulled down with agriculture's collapse, but that countless others will tumble after: "The farmers don't have water to farm so we're not servicing them with fertilizers and crop protection chemicals because they don't have as much need for them. Since we don't have as much work, we don't need to buy parts and tires from the places that service our equipment. Since we're not buying from them, they don't have as much money for groceries. It's an endless downward trickle."

Foth says this is the first time in its 20-year history that his company has had to lay off workers. He has cut 10 percent of his workforce and worries more layoffs are around the corner.

Those who argue on behalf of the Central Valley farmers say the trickle won't end at the California state lines: "I think the public is totally oblivious to what this is going to do to their food prices and quality," says Foth. "We in the United States rely on the San Joaquin Valley to provide a huge portion of the food supply. If Valley farmers continue to experience the fallout from not having adequate access to water, consumers are going to have to do what we do with oil-start relying on foreign providers. But how safe is the supply from Chile or China going to be when we can't regulate their farming industry?"

Paul Simonds, communication manager of the Western Growers Association, points out that neither Salazar nor any federal officials have stepped in to authorize any of the water pumping projects Valley farmers have requested: "We need the administration to make this a priority issue. We need real action." Simonds frames the stakes simply: "Agriculture has done an amazing job at providing the public hundreds of different products 12 months of the year nationwide. So Americans generally take it for granted that if they want straw­berries in the winter they can go down to the grocery store and buy straw­berries. If they want avocados, they go get avocados, and that is a real testament to the abilities of this industry. But we haven't done a great job helping the public see the significance of that. . . . In agriculture we aren't really the water users, it's the consumer that is the ultimate beneficiary of this water."

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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