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Valley leaders to drought task force: Send aid, keep the politics

POSTED March 4, 2014 9:24 p.m.

Hundreds of concerned Valley residents and farmers filled the public conference held at University of California, Merced on Tuesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown’s Drought Task Force met with the State Board of Food and Agriculture to discuss the impacts of the ongoing drought. By meeting with local agencies and farmers, state officials hoped to discover the type of assistance and state measures that are needed to help growers survive one of the worst droughts in California’s history.

Requesting that state officials and members of the taskforce continue their efforts in providing immediate assistance to drought-stricken communities, growers and farmers expressed their fear of worse droughts in California’s future. Many of the Valley residents warned state officials that if a quick solution is not achieved and farmers continue seeing decreases in water deliveries, many of the Central Valley communities that are dependent on agriculture and related industries will undergo a severe economic downfall – a consequence that state officials say would result in impacts reaching across the nation.

“The Central Valley is the heartbeat of agriculture, not only for California, but for much of the country’s supermarkets and dinner tables,” said California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci. “I want to hear how we at the state can leverage our powers to address this emergency situation.”

Members of the task force told area residents that the group would be taking their concerns back to Sacramento as they continue to make decisions related to the ongoing and future droughts.

“I understand their frustrations,” said Secretary John Laird of the California Natural Resources Agency to reporters after the meeting. “I think I would feel exactly the same. It’s a motivator for us to gather disparate forces.”

California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said that she also understood the detrimental impacts the drought has placed on Central Valley communities, noting the many tough decisions farmers have been forced to make just to get by. Some of the growers at the meeting reported knowing several area farmers who could not continue crop production due to the severity of the drought, leaving many without work or an income.

Other state leaders at the meeting included State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus, California Department of Public Health Deputy Director Mark Starr and representatives from local farm bureaus, water agencies, and grower associations. Turlock Irrigation District President Ron Macedo attended the joint conference, providing state officials with updates on how TID has been coping with the ongoing drought. Last week, the TID Board of Directors officially proclaimed the district as being in a drought state of condition while approving lower water allotments for the 2014 Irrigation Season. Macedo also shared the provisions the district is taking as part of the drought declaration, such as limiting operational spills, increasing security measures along canals and the strict enforcement of irrigation rules to ensure efficient water usage. Additionally, the district is looking to implement a “conservation tier” within the rate schedule that aims to encourage farmers to use less water during their final irrigation of the season by increasing the cost for additional water usage.

Although members of the task force acknowledged the much-needed rain resulting from recent storms that have passed through California, Laird says that even if the state received a storm every other day until May, water levels would still be slightly under that of a normal year.

“While it has helped, we still have a long way to go,” said Laird.

With Gov. Brown signing a $687 million plan for drought relief last week, local farmers urged state officials to speed up their efforts to help farmers by not allowing politics and restrictive environmental laws interfere with providing assistance. In response to their concerns, members from both the Drought Task Force and CDFA said that they are committed to providing the necessary aid as quickly as possible, as there are too many risks involved for Valley farming communities, and California as a whole.

“This drought is going to have significant statewide impacts on many sectors of California’s economy,” said Ross. “We are engaging with local communities and farmers and farm workers to help advise on potential future actions that can be taken at the state level.”

The Drought Task Force will continue traveling throughout California, holding a series of meetings to gain input from local officials, water agencies and farming communities that have been directly impacted by the drought.

 

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