Hundreds of trucks and cars honked their horns in support as they passed marchers participating in last week’s “March for Water” in an attempt to bring national attention to the results of taking water from San Joaquin Valley Westside farms. 

The marchers were hopeful that State and federal officials would somehow turn the pumps back on to allow more water to flow through the Delta to Westside farms, thus restoring thousands of jobs that have been lost. 

“March for Water” was organized by the California Latino Water Coalition and supported by farmers, businesses and even a Fresno radio talk show host, among others.  It seems it was easier to garner national attention than it was to increase the flow of water to Westside farms.  Even the New York Times printed a story on the March, as well as valley newspapers and radio and television stations.   

The hoped-for increased flow of water never materialized as the marchers stood in the hot sun on the final-day’s rally at San Luis Reservoir and heard speaker after speaker proclaim their unity with the marchers’ cause but no one uttered the words—“more water is coming.” 

Anticipation was high during the four-day march that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would speak at the rally and announce a suspension of environmental regulations that are keeping the water from flowing to Westside farms. It becomes somewhat fuzzy as to exactly what authority Schwarzenegger has in this issue. 

It further becomes a maze of both State and federal environmental regulations that have laid claim to the water that once flowed to Westside farms.  The court order that directed a curtailment of water deliveries in favor of the Delta smelt took place in a federal courtroom.  The water that flows through the Central Valley Project is federal water.  Perhaps President Obama could issue a federal directive to result in increased flows but any role that our California Governor could play is unclear. 

Yet, the marchers knew from first-hand experience that halting the flow to Westside farms mean soaring unemployment for thousands that is impacting individual lives.  How ironic can it be that those individuals who worked the fields in years past to provide our nation with food must now stand in both unemployment and food lines?  This desperation was clearly seen in the eyes of the marchers. 

Several days after the marchers had returned to their homes the Bureau of Reclamation announced an increase in water deliveries to California farms.  Westside farms that previously were allotted zero water deliveries will receive 10 percent of their contracted amount.  Every little bit helps but it is questionable how beneficial this new allotment will be to the farmers who are well into their new crop year.  Yes, this could mean less groundwater needed to irrigate permanent crops and it might even return some farmworkers to their jobs.   

The real message that today’s water scenario facing all of California is that our current water system is broken and needs to be fixed…now. This needed fix requires the Legislature and the Governor to come together on a water plan that will repair existing facilities, develop new storage and find a way to move water around the Delta that safeguards the Delta’s environment.   ###
Mike Wade, Executive Director
California Farm Water Coalition

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