Fresno County Declares a Water Emergency

June 6, 2008 7:06:18 PM PDT
Fresno County has declared a drought emergency. Supervisors are asking for both state and federal help to combat the water crisis.Some growers are able to pump individual wells for water. The board though wants permission to pump groundwater and then move that water through the California Aqueduct.

Crops currently in the ground on the valley's west-side won't make it to harvest without a steady irrigation supply. The trickle-down effect of the drought could be disastrous to Fresno County. Sarah Woolf of the Westlands Water District said "There are a lot of cantaloupes, tomatoes, onions, lettuce that will not be planted."

An estimated 41-thousand acres worth of crops went un-planted this year because of the uncertainty over water. County Ag Commissioner Jerry Prieto said "We have come up with an estimate at the present time of 73-million, 516-thousand dollars in lost crop revenue to Fresno County."

County supervisors have declared a local emergency. The board is asking Governor Schwarzenegger to ease water quality restrictions so groundwater can be pumped into the canal system which supplies farmers. Groundwater though contains more salts than water from the snowmelt. Supervisor Phil Larson said "If we could pump into the aqueduct for the 90-day period and blend that water we could make it through."

Some almond and lettuce growers are wary of using water with a higher salt content. But the board says not only are west-side communities facing massive job losses but schools are suffering too. Firebaugh City Manager Jose Ramirez said "We've already experienced a decline in our enrollments in some of our school districts and that has translated into 100 students and about 500-thousand dollars."

Larson is confident the county's request will be granted by the governor. He said "I hate to be the prophet of doom but if it doesn't, like I said two things are gonna happen. They'll either get more water or the district will start knocking out cotton and tomatoes."

Supervisor Larson meets with Governor Schwarzenegger's Chief of Staff on Monday.


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