Valley Voices

Without water, the San Joaquin Valley withers

A supporter waves her sign as she participates in a 2014 rally in Sacramento to bring more water to the parched San Joaquin Valley.
A supporter waves her sign as she participates in a 2014 rally in Sacramento to bring more water to the parched San Joaquin Valley. Vida en el Valle file

Current water policy has brought us to a critical point in California’s future, and decisions related to these policies will test the morality and character of our state leaders.

For many longtime residents and newly arrived families in the San Joaquin Valley, it’s not the drought that poses the biggest threat to their livelihood. The biggest threat is government decisions that deny water to this agricultural region.

A recent economic impact report examined the challenges facing the San Joaquin Valley region and confirmed that agriculture is the lifeblood of the area. More importantly, the report raised serious questions about the present and future of the area if agricultural production continues to decline. According to the report, government policies have methodically restricted water supply, taking over 500,000 acres of land out of production, which impacts jobs and family income.

The moral dilemma is not the dithering of policymakers over water supply, it is the fact that the government knows these policies are having a harmful impact on the region but choose to ignore the human and social consequences.

Californians need to hold their representatives accountable for this moral failing. It goes almost unnoticed that unemployment in the area exceeds the state average by over 60 percent, and income is lower than the state average by more than 65 percent. Where is the outrage for the low-income families or immigrants whose lives are being impacted by failed government water policies?

Outside of the individuals who represent the San Joaquin Valley region, there also appears to be very little concern that the government water supply restrictions will create more problems in the future.

While the economic life is being choked out of the area, the report reminds us that this land is uniquely suited for agriculture but not easily converted for other business purposes. Nine of the top 25 businesses in Kings County are agriculturally related.

The San Joaquin Valley region is part of the larger California agricultural industry that accounts for half of the total U.S. production of nearly every category of fresh fruit and vegetables. As government water policies shrink the footprint of farms in the region, what happens to the local economy? Jobs? Small businesses?

Even more cynical is the fact that the activists and government officials calling for further restrictions on water supplies are offering no plan to assist the San Joaquin Valley region with the damage they are creating. They encourage policies that take land out of production, eliminate farm jobs, and strain the resources of local governments.

Yet they ignore the consequences of their policies as if the region doesn’t matter. The defenders of the status quo are ushering in an era of conscious disregard for the people of the San Joaquin Valley region while they disassemble one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world.

Does this policy of indifference reflect the moral character of the state? Would we all stand for policies that harmed technology or entertainment?

San Joaquin Valley residents hope Californians demand a water policy solution that preserves the rich history of California’s agriculture industry and at the same time provides the same opportunities for a new generation of families settling in California. We hope that our fellow citizens realize that we need a water supply solution; not a policy of neglect.

As the chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, I am calling on my colleagues in other elected bodies as well as business and community organizations throughout the state to take up this cause and ask their representatives to consider the moral and economic consequences of current water policies.

As these policies are scrutinized by more Californians, this group of elected officials – or the next – need to show that they can resolve tough issues and that they have the character to do so. It’s not just a political fight over water; it’s a fight to protect California.

Buddy Mendes is chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and a farmer who resides in Riverdale.