About 1,000 people -- from farmworkers to farm leaders -- turned out Wednesday for a water rally in support of east side agriculture at the International Agri-Center in Tulare.
The rally, organized by the California Latino Water Coalition, protested the planned "zero allocation" of irrigation water this summer to east-side farmers by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Zero is not only unprecedented, it's unacceptable because people would lose farm jobs and trees could die from lack of water, said Mario Santoyo, the coalition's leader and a Friant Water Authority official.
Friant Water Authority represents irrigation districts receiving Millerton Lake water from the Friant-Kern and Madera canals for delivery to 15,000 farmers.
Eight buses brought in people from Delano, Earlimart, McFarland and other farming communities, organizers said.
Jose Luis Iniguez, 51, of Delano is a foreman at a grape farm. "If there's no water, there's no work," he said in Spanish. "As much as you need water at home, you need it at work."
Ron Jacobsma, general manager of Friant Water Authority, said federal fisheries regulators need to be more "flexible" about rivers flows for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.
"Why are we running that water out to the ocean? It makes no sense to us," he said. "If there's fresh water in the delta and the fish are OK, we need to pump that water."
Geoffrey Galloway said his farm in Terra Bella needs Friant-Kern canal water to survive because there's so little groundwater in that growing area.
"Zero allocation is unacceptable and detrimental to farm families like mine," he said. "Without this precious resource, I surely will watch my trees die."
Water officials told the crowd they hoped more rain would ease the crisis.
But managing water in a drought is a "complex situation," said DeeDee D'Adamo, a member of the state Water Resources Control Board. "There's not a lot of water to transfer," she said.
Both farmers and farmworkers suffer when a drought causes jobs to dry up, farmworker Carmen Garza told the audience.
"Don't let the farms fall because farmworkers will fall deeper," she said.
The rally was the third in a series that organizers believe have produced results.
"We want to continue the pressure," Santoyo said.