California is off to one of its driest years in history. As 2014 gets underway, drought has already taken a toll on local communities and on farms and ranches throughout the Central Valley of California. Officials at the World Ag Expo scheduled a Water Forum on the closing day of this year’s World Ag Expo.
Mario Santoyo, executive director of the California Latino Water Coalition, was the moderator of the first of two panels at the Water Forum. Santoyo was one of the leaders of a march by members of the Coalition in Sacramento earlier this year.
First speaker on the panel was Mayor Robert Silva of Mendota. “My concern is for the water supplies outside the city limits of Mendota,” said Silva. “The Westlands Water District employees the majority of our people in Mendota. So the impact on our community is immense, greater than anybody else.
“If water gets cut off to the farming community, it creates less jobs for us. You’re talking about truckers, about people who work in the packing sheds and in the fields. We’ve had TV networks even from Europe coming and interviewing us because they can’t believe this situation can exist.”
Mark Watte, a pistachio grower who farms eight miles from Tulare, site of World Ag Expo, said the cutbacks in water allocations have an impact that goes far beyond turning off the water to the irrigation canals.
“Last year we got zero (allocations from the Friant Water Authority) so we were 100 percent pump,” he said. “The year before 80 percent of our irrigation supplies came from that. This is a geometric progression here – the worse it gets the worse it gets. Our water is dropping, our aquifer levels are dropping to ever lower levels. More sand is coming in, ruining our pumps, and the water is going below our pumps.”
Watte likened the situation to have 40 percent of the cars breaking down on the freeway at one time. “How long would it take to get your car fixed,” he asked. “Our pumping repair companies are months behind, and when a dairy calls or a household calls and they’re out of water that’s a priority, and I can certainly understand that. And our well drillers are a year behind.”
As bad as it is in 2014, Watte is as much concerned about the future in the Central Valley.
Read more and see the video "Water takes center state at World Ag Expo."