Surprise Visit from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

October 12, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Secretary Salazar told West Side farmers Sunday that he spends more time on California's water crisis than any other world issue.Still, some say he's not doing enough. "And here we have the better soils, but no water right. So why don't we bring that water here?"

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar got a firsthand glimpse of the Valley's water shortage Sunday.

He toured Joe Delbosque's Fresno County farm, which has cut half of its 2,300-acre production this year. "We used to grow tomatoes and wheat. We don't grow those anymore because we don't have any water."

A third year of drought and federal cutbacks in irrigation water pumped from the delta has forced west-side farmers to fallow hundreds of thousands of acres.

Valley farmers used Salazar's surprise visit to express their frustration. "All we need is water. We're not asking for anything else."

In June, Salazar spoke before nearly a thousand people at Fresno State's satellite union, vowing to make California's water crisis one of his top priorities.

On Sunday, he reaffirmed that statement.

Salazar said he has already initiated an effort to look at biological opinion and has asked the Federal government to consider short-term solutions like the building of the two-gates project, a structure which is designed to prevent the endangered Delta Smelt from reaching the irrigation pumps that kill them.

But Salazar did have a warning for farmers Sunday, telling them that no proposed solution will be immediate. "And the reality of it is we do not have the solutions in hand and that the pain that people have seen this year may be the pain they'll see in the future."

Salazar will meet with Governor Schwarzenegger Monday in part to discuss these water issues. Meanwhile, a spokesperson with the Westlands water district says they are preparing for more water restrictions again this spring.

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