Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why did over 1,200 California farmers sign a letter to Congress?

California farmers recognize the dire situation this year’s drought brings. So much so that more than more than 1,200 of them signed a letter to the state’s Washington, D.C. delegation insisting that they set aside political differences and work together to address the water supply crisis. With State and federal water projects announcing an initial allocation of zero for the first time in history and statewide, on average, farm water users expecting only a third of their normal supplies, it is understandable that thousands have stepped forward to make their voices heard.

What used to be a vibrant almond orchard

In 2011 California’s water system was all but overflowing. At the start of 2013 water storage levels were above average but allocations were below average. That should have been a wake-up call to our Washington representatives but it wasn’t. Today, with environmental allocations driving down storage levels and hydrology as bad as it is we have reached a crisis in record time. And still, political paralysis is preventing actions that could provide relief.

“As we speak this very moment there’s 25,000 (cubic feet per second) flowing as outflow out to the ocean. At the same time, we’re pumping 4,400 cfs,” said Dan Nelson, head of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, at a drought meeting held at U.C. Merced yesterday, as reported by Stockton Record writer Alex Brietler.

San Luis Reservoir

“I ask you,” Nelson said, addressing State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus, “is this the balance that you anticipated? Is this the balance that you’re working for? I don’t think so. We knew this storm was going to happen last week. Why didn’t we prepare for it?”

Marcus responded that the state board is waiting for an emergency request from the state and federal water projects, which could alter how much water can be pumped south.

“My understanding is they’re talking about it,” she said. “We can’t do it on our own.”

But the spike in flows will probably last only another four or five days, Nelson countered. “While we set up forums to talk about it, water’s flowing to the ocean.”

In the ancient fable, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. In California, more than 1,200 farmers are demanding that that doesn’t happen again.  They are insisting that their elected representatives address the imbalance between water users and the environment and to move forward on storage projects that would lessen the impact of future droughts.

Their message to Washington politicians about working together to solve the water crisis is this: “Anything less will be your collective failure.”

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