Group Plans to March for Water

July 1, 2009 12:53:29 AM PDT
A group called The Latino Water Coalition organized a march in Los Banos, and the rally in Fresno for one reason. Coalition leader Mario Santoyo explains:"The intent of the rally is to keep the issue alive in the media and in the public eye."

With agriculture the number one business in the Valley, political leaders like Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin are eager to help.

We have to keep the pressure up. That's what this rally is all about tomorrow, is continuing to draw attention to this issue."

The Governor, and local congressmen are also on board, calling for more water for valley crops. They made enough noise to get the secretary of the interior , Ken Salazar to come to town to listen. But their claims that the water shortage is caused by the endangered species act, or ESA, to protect fish in the Sacramento Delta, are under dispute. Juliet Christian Smith of the Pacific Institute is among those challenging the claims.

"Even if the ESA went away, we'd still have a drought and recent pumping restrictions related to the Delta Smelt have actually only reduced water exports from the Delta about 5%." Christian-Smith said.

In a recent visit to Mendota, Lester Snow, the Director of the State Department of Water Resources confirmed that drought, not environmental restrictions were responsible for most of the water shortage. At the same time, Snow acknowledged most West side farms have a near normal water supply this year. But they had to pump low quality water from wells to get it. Mario Santoyo of the Latino Water Coalition says the numbers don't tell the real story.

"It really is bad. I think there's a lot of manipulation of numbers to reflect that the water supply is better than they say it is."

The coalitions claim that the water shortage has resulted in massive unemployment among farm workers is also under dispute. Figures from the State Employment Development Department show the number of farm jobs in Fresno County are at a nine year high. More than 42 thousand farm jobs, up more than one thousand from the previous year. That's due to increased employment in the Eastern part of the county, which has been less affected by the drought because growers there have superior water rights to those on the West side.

But, the Latino Water Coalition says unless dramatic improvements are made in the state's water supply system, things will get worse for everybody. They are hoping for long term solutions, like dams, and a peripheral canal to bring water from Northern California to the Valley, bypassing the Delta and its fish.

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