While there are plenty of issues that Californians are tired of seeing state government drag their feet on, Central Valley farmers feel they will face extinction before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent water system proposals produce results. “We’ll be all gone by the time it gets implemented,” farmer Bill Koster tells The Associated Press. “If we have another drought, we’re toast. Forget it, we’re done.”
The farmers, who grow about half of the country’s produce, were forced to leave around 500,000 acres fallow this year due to drought and an environmental measure that limits water use from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The governor often appeared with farmers to promote legislation and programs that could restore the delta and create two new dams with agricultural water use in mind, in addition to other long-awaited water supply and distribution measures that would overhaul the state’s aging system.
The Central Valley has been rocked by water shortages that have helped lead to a 15% unemployment rate and a high demand for food assistance for the very people who grow it. Despite a lot of self-congratulation for the proposed measures, there is little hope that relief is visible in the short-term. Republican Sen. Jeff Denham, himself from a California farming clan, says “There is nothing in here for our current water crisis…You’re seeing farms that have been passed down from generation to generation that are now bankrupt, employees that are left unemployed and standing in bread lines. It will get worse.” While a budget-challenged Schwarzenegger admits the legislation, if passed, would not see much spending in the first years and looks for federal solutions to the water shortages, Central Valley farmers prepare to hold on to whatever they can in the face of more drought predictions.