Water Rally in Fresno Draws Thousands

July 1, 2009 8:00:06 PM PDT
For the first time in months, water is flowing toward farms in the dry Central Valley.                 |   Watch Videos Above for Extended Coverage   |

But a huge crowd came to Fresno City Hall Wednesday, demanding more water, and hoping the louder their voices, the more likely politicians in Washington will hear their plea.

Fresno Police say about 3,500 people came to City Hall for the water rally, including farmers, and politicians. They all had one message: "Turn on the pumps, and keep them on."

And this time, they had two members of Congress to take the message back to Capitol Hill. With their voices, their signs, and their whales, a crowd of thousands demanded a change in federal laws that protect endangered species.

"Rewrite it," said Molly Thacker, of Merced. "Instead of protecting the fish, protect the people and the farms and their jobs."

Business basically came to a standstill at City Hall, but the work had just begun for people gathering signatures on a "Save Our Water" petition.

They're pushing President Obama and Congress to invoke the so-called "God Squad" exemption in the endangered species act, and they already have Gov. Schwarzenegger on their side.

"The governor has asked the president to declare an emergency," said California agriculture secretary A.G. Kawamura. "We hope that happens. We hope your voices carry that message."

The message spread from City Hall through downtown Fresno as the rally spilled into the streets. Supporters are convinced it's getting through to the top.

Action News Reporter Corin Hoggard asked Mendota's mayor, Robert Silva: "As loud as this rally has been, is it going to be heard in Washington, D.C.?"

"From what I've heard from sources, they know what's going on in the Central Valley. They understand what's going on," said Silva.

As politicians debate what to do, many Valley farmers say it's already too late for their crops, and without a permanent fix, fields will be dry like this for years to come.

"We want water and nothing less will do," said comedian and activist Paul Rodriguez. "And not in small amounts. In copious amounts. Water for us -- the westside, the eastside, for all of California. And L.A., if you can hear me, today we're the ones suffering. You're next."

Several of the politicians who attended the rally and they all say Fresno's former mayor Alan Autry can take a lot of credit for getting attention for the valley's water issues.

Autry compared the Endangered Species Act ... that prevents pumping at the Delta for several months every year ... to an act of extreme violence on American soil.

"It's not good for us. It's not good for America. It is nothing less that acts of domestic terror," he said.

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