Valley Water Alliance wants ordinary joes

By C.J. Barbre

As a result of the "All Valley Legislators Water Forum" in Fresno which was covered in the Dec. 15, 2004 Exeter Sun, the Valley Water Alliance (VWA) coalition was formed.

On Jan. 11 and 12, representatives of VWA were in Washington, D.C., trying to explain to lawmakers how vital the San Joaquin River is to life as we know it in the lower Central Valley.

VWA board members who attended included Lindsay Mayor Ed Murray, California Citrus Mutual President Joel Nelsen, and Delano/Earlimart Water District Manager Dale Brogan.

On the 11th they had meetings with Eric Webb who listened on behalf of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, a staff director of the House Water and Power Subcommittee, an administrative assistant from Rep. Dennis Cardoza's office and a meeting with John Watts, Environmental Counsel for Senator Dianne Feinstein. There was also a power lunch at the Capitol Grille with House Staffers and other representatives from Capitol Hill.

On the 12th they met with representatives from Rep. George Radanovich's office; Representative Jim Costa's office and Senator Barbara Boxer's office as well as representatives of the National Cotton Growers Association, the Secretary of the Interior for Water and Science and the Bureau of Reclamation.

"Judge Karlton's decision is not about Friant and farmers," Nelsen said in a California Citrus Mutual newsletter Murray forwarded to the Gazette, "it is families, businesses and communities that will be affected."

Murray said VWA is an informational entity put together to inform not only the federal and state legislators, but to also inform the general public. "Most people, including those involved in ag are not really aware of the situation," he said. "I find that even here with people who work for us at Orange Belt, it's the age-old story of farmers fighting over water - the 'sky is falling' deal. It has gone on so long, since 1986, that people lose sight of what's taking place." Murray is general manager and pest control advisor for Orange Belt Supply Company in Lindsay.

He said the VWA Board plans to have a supervisor from each of the five counties as a member along with at least one mayor from each county. Three supervisors have already joined including Tulare County Supervisor Connie Conway, Jerry O' Banion with the Merced County Board of Supervisors and Vern Moss with the Madera County Board of Supervisors. The mayor of Orange Cove, Victor Lopez, has joined. Fresno Mayor Allen Autry is expected to come on board. Other members include Richard Kuckenbecker of Kuckenbecker Farm Equipment, Larry Mapes of Farm Credit West, and Tim Razzari of Razzari Ford.

Murray said the plan is to send a different VWA contingent back to Washington and up to Sacramento roughly every six to eight weeks, not farmers or others with a financial stake in agriculture so much as average citizens with a stake in their communities. He said they want representatives of school districts, chambers of commerce, bankers, garage owners, a good sampling of citizens who would be adversely affected if water supplies are cut locally.

"What happens if the children's parents are out of work - it will have a traumatic affect all the way down the line." He said a city with no business is a ghost town.

"I, by no means, believe they will take the water away from the City of Lindsay, but if they take the water away from the farms surrounding it - we've got six to seven packing houses in town. We have a juice plant, a marmalade plant . . . they all need water and need crops to support them."

Murray said environmental groups have said that the ag land in the Central Valley was historically marginal land, semi desert that without the imported water was never designed to be farmed. "They say we should go back to the way it was and support salmon, that if we don't produce any oranges or pistachios we could always buy them from other countries. But that's shortsighted, because look what has happened to the price of oil."

He said the worst land in Tulare County from a weather perspective, is better than some of the best land in North Dakota. "We can reclaim the land, but can't reclaim the weather. That's why we're able to produce 256 different crops."

A piece in the Nov./Dec. issue of Western Water by Gary Pitzer starts, "The San Joaquin River provides the water that enables farms up and down the San Joaquin Valley's eastern side to produce a substantial agricultural bounty. For more than 50 years, the majority of the river has been halted at Friant Dam and diverted north and south for use by farms and homes throughout parts of five counties, in the process making that part of the Valley the most productive agricultural region in the world."

Murray said the response he got from Washington insiders was "incredible." He said, "I'm unusual, because I also have ag background." Because of his job, Murray said it doesn't take him as long to get up to speed on these issues as it does others. He said their response was, "Wow, you're a mayor, the kind of person we want to come back and talk to us." In other words, he said they were pleased to hear from solid citizens who don't have the financial interest that a direct user of the water, such as a large citrus or cotton grower, would have.

VWA says that the construction of Friant Dam created major urban and rural economic development, recharged groundwater supplies and provided impetus to the development of an extremely sensitive ecosystem in the San Joaquin River. "How then do we implement the federal court decision, if that becomes necessary, without reversing these gains?" they ask. Gains on their list include at least 28 local communities with a total population of 1.25 million; thousands of small businesses and many thousands more they employ; numerous species of fish and wildlife; 1 million farm families in the affected five counties including Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern; and more than 100,000 water-related jobs.

Anyone wishing to join the VWA coalition should call 592-3790.

Start typing and press Enter to search