President Barack Obama's visit to the San Joaquin Valley highlights the far-reaching human, social and economic hardships being caused by this historic drought. It also gives us an opportunity to reflect on the values we hold as a state.
Many people in the Central Valley share the president's belief that if you work hard, you should be able to raise a family, own your home, send your kids to college and put away money for retirement.
But unfortunately, that American dream does not exist for many families in the Central Valley who face limited employment opportunities because of the drought.
In this region, water creates jobs and prosperity. The president's willingness to tackle this issue gives us hope that a solution could be possible.
Our region has struggled through the recession. What the president found from his visit to Fresno is that without water, our region is suffering even higher rates of unemployment and poverty, putting more communities at risk.
One-third of all jobs in the Valley are related to irrigated agriculture, so farmers who do not have sufficient water to irrigate their lands are not hiring farmworkers and not planting crops this year. People who want to work, and could be working, are instead forced to stand in food lines.
Current water policies are failing altogether. Rather than achieving the dual goal of protecting fish, wildlife, and habitat and providing communities with an adequate water supply, two decades of government policies have made the situation worse and have resulted in the most severe water shortage in recent history.
The layer upon layer of regulations which have created priority requirements for the environment have caused chronic shortage of water for human use and created unintended human consequences that will cause more damage to the environment. The policies are not only short-sighted, they are short-term; they do nothing to protect California residents or implement a strategy against future water shortages.
These policies were not initiated by this president, but after seeing the impact of the federal policies, it is our hope that President Obama makes the solution his responsibility.
We all share the goal of protecting the environment, but we must ask if the policies are working. The sad fact is the policies do not protect fish, wildlife or habitat; the environment continues to decline.
But more importantly, these failed policies are causing real harm to people, denying them the opportunity to work hard and reach their goals.
In the short term, the president must act to direct the agencies within his administration to work cooperatively to immediately re-evaluate restrictions imposed on operations of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, which are regulated under federal law. Absent some demonstrable need to restrict water project operations to avoid the extinction of a species, the restriction must be changed.
For the longer term, the president must provide unequivocal direction to federal agencies that the administration supports infrastructure projects — including the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and raising Shasta Dam — and expects these projects to be approved quickly.
It is estimated that 127,000 new jobs would be created during the design and construction of new intakes and conveyance facilities in the delta. About $240 million has been spent evaluating the twin-tunnels project, and we know enough to conclude that this project is good for the environment, good for water supply and good for the economy.
These are issues that affect more than the San Joaquin Valley; they affect the entire state. Indecision and delay are, at best, default positions to maintain the status quo and, at worst, a strategy to kill any solution.
We need the president's help and cooperation from congressional leadership to move forward.
There is a long line of residents, farmworkers and farmers ready to get back to work, take care of their families and buoy our communities. They're eager to support a plan that will improve the state's water system.
The president and elected officials are the key to allowing our people to pursue the American Dream.
Don Peracchi is president of the Westlands Board of Directors and farms on the west side of Fresno County.