Water & Drought

Mendota water rally calls for special legislative session

More than 300 farmers, workers and elected officials from throughout the Valley gathered Friday at Rojas Pierce Park in Mendota to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to call a special legislative session to deal with California’s water crisis.

Rally organizers say they want the governor to speed up the process for building dams for water storage. They also want to relax environmental policies that hurt agriculture and expedite funds allocated to help drought-stricken communities.

Farmers and elected officials worry that with the prospect of a wet year, the concern over California’s beleaguered water system will weaken.

“We need to continue this fight,” said Assembly Member Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, one of 15 speakers at the rally, dubbed “Take Back Our Water.”

Patterson was among a bipartisan group of 47 legislators who recently signed a letter asking Brown for a special session. Rally participants were also urged Friday to sign a similar letter.

Farmer Kristi Diener, one of the rally organizers and founder of California Water for Food and People Movement, said a goal of the rally was to keep pressure on decision makers to find workable solutions.

“We can’t conserve our way out of this crisis,” said Diener, referring to Brown’s executive order asking for a 25 percent reduction in urban water use.

Diener, whose family is fourth-generation west side farmers, said she organized the rally with the help of several other groups, including My Job Depends on Ag and Gar Tootelian, a family run farm chemical company in Reedley. Patterson’s staff also was instrumental in putting the event on.

“Today can’t just be another rally,” Diener said. “This must be the beginning of a persistent movement that does not stop when the rains come. It has to go to Sacramento and then to the voting booth in November.”

Alisha Gallon, Patterson’s representative, said all of the letters collected on Friday would be sent to the Governor’s Office in the next few weeks.

And while farmers and elected officials want some action, the possibility of a special session appears unlikely.

A spokesman for the governor said there is already a sound process to ensure that drought assistance and bond funds are being distributed appropriately.

“To date, hundreds of millions (of dollars) have been committed to emergency drought relief, disaster assistance, water conservation and infrastructure projects across California – with much more on the way,” said Gareth Lacy, deputy press secretary for Brown. “This investment and response is the product of Republicans and Democrats setting aside politics and working together, without any need for a special session.”

Mendota Mayor Robert Silva said he has been a frequent speaker at various water rallies. Silva’s community is among the hardest hit by the drought. Thousands of acres of farmland have been idled because of limited water supplies, leading to fewer jobs and less spending in the community.

He said that despite the possibility of more rain, farmers may still be battling with environmentalists over water coming from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the source of irrigation water for millions of acres of farmland and home to countless species.

“I thought that this would be my last water rally, but I’ve realized we still need attention, we still need changes,” Silva said.

Robert Rodriguez: 559-441-6327, @FresnoBeeBob