March for Water, United Farm Workers Aren't Marching

April 14, 2009 12:19:52 AM PDT
For towns on the West side of the San Joaquin Valley, the shortage of water and the idling of four hundred thousand acres of crops means a lot of farm workers are without jobs. Mendota Mayor Robert Silva says the town's usual unemployment rate of 20 to 25% has doubled.Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said, "We're the highest unemployment rate in the Valley, and probably in the nation. We're making history right now."

Silva and others have joined a group called the Latino Water Coalition in the "March for Water." But the most recognizable group representing farm workers, the UFW is not participating.

The union's Executive Vice President Armando Elenes said the march is not really about farm workers. "This is a grower sponsored march, a grower organized march, for water for growers, this is not a farm workers march. This is a growers sponsored march," said Elenes.

Growers and business interests are backing the Latino Water Coalition. Coalition spokesman Steve Lowe said the goal is finding both immediate and long term solutions to water issues. "They can relax environmental issues so they can pump more water in the Delta that will reach this area and even further South on the West side of the Valley," said Lowe.

Lowe said that could allow some growers enough water to get some crops planted on idled land before this season is over. For a long term solution Lowe says the best fix would be the so called "Peripheral Canal" that would carry water from Northern California around the Sacramento Delta, directly to Central Valley farms.

The State Water Resources Board has cut the water supply coming from the Delta by about a third to protect fish species. A combination of drought conditions and environmental issues prompted the Federal Government to cut the water allotment to the Westlands Water District from sources like the San Luis Reservoir to the zero for this season, but that is expected to be increased in the coming weeks.

For Mayor Robert Silva, the bottom line is, there's not enough water, and not enough jobs. "In the summertime a typical family of five or six, everybody's working, so they save their money for the winter and they get by," Silva. Now, with no jobs, and no money, he says things will look bleak for thousands of farm workers and their families for the rest of the year.

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