Water & Drought

Fresno meeting backs water-supply plan

Despite strong opposition in Congress, Sen. Dianne Feinstein's proposed amendment to provide water to the San Joaquin Valley's west side drew support from farmers, elected officials and business leaders Friday in Fresno.

Feinstein's legislation would boost irrigation deliveries for thirsty west-side farms to 40% of their contractual allocation. Last year, they received 10%.

But standing in her way are 11 lawmakers who say Feinstein's efforts could harm the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and the West Coast salmon industry.

Supporters of Feinstein's legislation, who gathered at Fresno's City Council chambers, pledged to do everything they can to help, including writing letters and passing resolutions of support.

Richard Valle, chairman of the Kings County Board of Supervisors, said the region's water shortages have caused high unemployment and poverty in many Valley communities. And he said it is time to fight back.

"We are here to push back until the need for food lines goes away and our people are able to go back to work," Valle said.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, called Feinstein's amendment the best hope the region has for receiving more water this year. It's a necessary short-term solution, he said. "This allocation allows farmers to stay in business and provide real jobs," Costa said.

Supporters say a 40% supply would provide enough water to irrigate about 175,000 acres and create as many as 5,400 jobs.

Farmworker Claudia Esmeralda Arreola of Fresno said a lack of water has caused many workers like herself to work fewer hours, making if difficult, if not impossible, to provide for her family.

"We need more water so these fields can grow food and there can be a harvest and we can work," Arreola said.

Others at Friday's news conference praised Feinstein for taking the political heat to try to help Valley farmers, while some blasted Democratic Rep. George Miller of California for opposing her amendment.

"Miller has anger and hatred against us," said Fresno County farmer George Delgado. "He wants to put us out of business."

Al Smith, executive director of the Greater Fresno Area Chamber of Commerce, said this isn't just a west-side problem. Fallowed acres and unemployed workers have created an economic ripple effect throughout the Valley.

He urged Feinstein not to give up the fight for more water.

"We want to make sure that she is not intimidated by the likes of George Miller," Smith said. "So let's inundate Washington with our message."

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