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A rare event took place in these highly partisan, divided political times on Friday morning at the Harlan Ranch Barn near Shepherd Avenue and Highway 168.

A fast-growing bipartisan coalition of Valley elected leaders said that the potential economic damage from the California drought is so severe it demands an immediate response from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“This is a bipartisan coalition,” said state Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno. “It is so bipartisan, that it’s almost nonpartisan in its orientation. I think that really speaks volumes of how important this issue is to our community.”

portrait of state Sen. Melissa Hurtado

“It makes me emotional and makes me sad, but it also makes me angry.” – State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, referring to the Newsom limiting his drought emergency declaration to Sonoma and Mendocino counties. 

“A month ago, a group of us that represent the Valley, sent a letter to the governor asking for a declaration of emergency and we persist,” said state Sen. Anna Caballero, D-Salinas.

One by one, elected officials from all sides of the political spectrum took turns speaking about the desperately dry conditions confronting their communities. They say the farm they chose to speak at provided a stark picture of what the drought has already done.

“This is an example of what could be normally productive land that is probably not going to be used to its full capacity because of the lack of water availability,” said Borgeas, pointing to mounds of dead trees that had to be pulled from the ground due to lack of irrigation.

“So when you look not just here, but throughout the Valley and even other parts of the state, they’re suffering through this. So it’s not just a Valley problem, it is a California issue.”

Newsom declared a regional drought emergency for the Russian River watershed in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties last week.

Borgeas says the governor needs to declare a statewide drought emergency that would then allow for a relaxation of regulatory and environmental restraints.

More specifically, Newsom could streamline red tape so that water could be transferred either on the market or between individuals, Borgeas said.

A bipartisan group of elected leaders representing the San Joaquin Valley pressed for drought relief from Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday morning. (GV Wire/Jahz Tello)

Individual Counties Declare Drought Emergency

“So when you look not just here, but throughout the Valley and even other parts of the state, they’re suffering through this. So it’s not just a Valley problem, it is a California issue.” State Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno

On Tuesday, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to declare a local drought emergency.

“This current water year is the third-driest on the record,” said Tulare County Board Chair Amy Shuklian.

Madera County Supervisor Rob Poythress says his county has also already declared a drought emergency.

“I know that the state administration understands our dire situation, and we need action now,” said Poythress.

The Fresno County Board of Supervisors has added a local emergency resolution to next week’s agenda.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes says he’s had conversations with the state Department of Water Resources about releasing water from the San Luis Reservoir to help.

“DWR has water in San Luis right now that they can loan to the Central Valley Project contractors and it would be repaid beginning in July with water transfers that have already been purchased by the CVP,”  Mendes said. He believes this could provide some immediate relief to farmers on the west side.

A large field of dead grass next to where elected leaders held a news conference asking for a drought emergency Friday morning. (GVWire/Jahz Tello)

Drought Impacts Are Already Here

Portrait of Fresno County Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Jacobsen

“Farmers are trying to shake their current year’s crop on the ground just to try to save those trees to another year.” – Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau

Ryan Jacobsen, CEO of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, says he knows that farmers are doing things now that he never envisioned.

“Farmers are trying to shake their current year’s crop on the ground just to try to save those trees to another year,” explained Jacobsen. “We’re seeing the fallowing of our annual crops.”

Jacobsen points to the nationwide ketchup shortage, and he believes it will become amplified due to the lack of water for tomato processing.

“Most of the ketchup grown, not just in the nation, but within the world, is being grown on the west side here within Fresno County,” said Jacobsen.

He says the communities that will be hit the hardest are Huron, Mendota, and Firebaugh.

“Those folks are the faces of the ones who are going to suffer when we get towards the Fall time this year because there will be a lack of jobs,” says Jacobsen.

Senator Hurtado Says Newsom’s Non-Response Makes Her ‘Angry’

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, was born and raised in the Valley and is the daughter of farmworkers.

“It makes me emotional and makes me sad, but it also makes me angry,” said Hurtado. “The angry part is a good part because it makes me want to fight another day for the Valley.”

She says she was frustrated when Newsom limited the drought emergency to the two Wine Country counties.

“It’s been a challenge within myself to find other ways of communicating the importance of the Valley, not just to the governor, but to the world, to colleagues. I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that people understand where we are coming from,” said Hurtado.

Hurtado says she’s not been able to get a one-on-one meeting with Newsom to express her deep concerns. She says COVID-19 has played a part in keeping people out of the Capitol building, but she has had conversations with members of Newsom’s staff.

“We’re talking about farmworkers that are going to be out of work. We’re talking about families like mine that depended on water, that depended on agriculture to be what provides food for the family at the table,” said Hurtado. “That’s going to be potentially gone with no solution.”

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