Valley Farmers Hold Breath While Legislators Decide Water Bond Fate

August 16, 2008 12:18:52 PM PDT
State legislators will probably miss a deadline Saturday to put a $9 billion water bond on the November ballot.Legislators won't settle a water bond until they deal with the state budget. If the bond does moves forward it could provide some much needed relief for Valley farmers and the communities they live in.

Water is as essential to Valley farming as the workers who maintain it. But looking around this season it's hard to find a farm with water or workers.

"I hope this is as bad as it has to get before we start getting some action out of the legislature," said Paul Betancourt.

Betancourt relies on his farm in Kerman to make money for his family. Like other farmers in the Valley Betancourt has been hurt by the drought forcing him to make crop changes and consider cutting back the number of employees he has. Betancourt said a water bond would create better water delivery and storage for farmers.

"The fact is we have a 2 or 3 year drought every 20 years and we're not prepared for that and this is what happens," said Betancourt.

Unemployed farm workers from around the Valley took their cries for help to the Capitol Wednesday urging legislators to put a water bond on the November ballot. But the timing on this $9.3 billion bond seems to be bad.

Governor Schwarzenegger is refusing to sign any legislation until he gets a state budget. The state faces a 15-billion dollar deficit while legislators try to agree on a budget. Republicans are proposing to limit state spending. Democrats warn that would almost certainly ruin the funding for education in bad budget years.

But Assembly Leader Mike Villines from Clovis said that's not the case. "I think if they step back and really look at this, they'd realize this is protection for education. That's what we're trying to say. Essential services get maintained when you stop the peaks and the valleys."

Betancourt said he thinks he can make it through this tough period but warned if he doesn't get help somewhere he might have to consider a new way to support his family.

Twelve California counties, including four here in the valley, have been declared natural disaster areas because of drought. The federal government made the declaration so farmers in these areas can get help from the government.

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