It is not often that local, state, and federal legislators have the opportunity to convene and discuss topics with constituents, but that is precisely what took place on Thursday at the fourth annual Government Night.
Officiated by Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Vito Chiesa, the evening allowed Mayor Gary Soiseth, Senator Tom Berryhill (R–Twain Harte), Congressman Jeff Denham (R--Turlock) and Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen (R--Riverbank) to gather at California State University, Stanislaus campus to discuss issues unique to the region. Each legislator presented prepared comments, followed by a question and answer sessions with constituents.
"There are a lot of questions you will have for us. Some will be state, some will be federal, some will be local, and this gives us an opportunity not only to answer your questions and listen to you, but to actually have us working together on those issues as we move forward," said Denham in his opening remarks.
While the legislators did touch on a number of topics, the prevailing interest of the evening was water, which is the number one topic in the state, said Berryhill.
"It's the only thing that is scaring me about our economy, maybe being able to stall the economy and never recover," remarked Chiesa.
The severity of the drought, highlighted by Gov. Jerry Brown's recent executive order that mandates citywide conservation efforts, has raised concern amongst citizens. However, Olsen said the issue predates the recent "band-aid" conservation measures.
"For anyone to suggest that we could conserve our way out of this problem is preposterous," said Olsen.
She partially credits the severity of the drought to past leaders who "refused to prepare for today's situation" which includes a lack of water storage options.
Soiseth pointed out that Turlock receives 100 percent of its water supply from the ground, so the city is currently exploring options to develop contracts with local agencies to receive river water and to augment supply for a long-term solution.
During the question and answer session a CSUS MBA student said that she felt that the water conservation measures were penalizing the general population when the agriculture industry is most responsible as the biggest water user and waster. Berrhill responded that "Agriculture has gotten an absolute bad rap and we have done more to conserve than any other industry."
"Even though the agriculture industry has grown, we are doing much more with much less," he added, highlighting the drip irrigation system farmers use to water their crops which is more efficient than flood irrigation. However, although these measures are helpful, abstaining from flood irrigation can significantly impact ground water recharge levels, he said.
Olsen pointed out that the drought affects "urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, businesses and ag, high-tech, low-tech ,it’s a statewide problem that demands statewide solutions."
Berryhill put it most succinctly by saying "We're all in this together."