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Commentary: Message to state water board: ‘We need water now!’

Issue Date: February 25, 2015
By María L. Gutiérrez
Maria Gutiérrez
A large audience, above, participates in a State Water Resources Control Board workshop in Sacramento, regarding a decision by the board’s executive director that would reduce the amount of water available for storage south of the delta.
MaríaGutiérrez speaks to the board during the workshop.

(Editor's note: This commentary is adapted from testimony presented at the State Water Resources Control Board workshop in Sacramento, regarding a decision by the board's executive director to deny a request from state and federal water projects to allow additional water to be released from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for storage south of the delta.)

"El Agua es Asunto de Todos"—"Water Is Everyone's Business"—is a campaign with two main goals - to raise awareness about the water shortage in California and the devastating economic impact it is having upon the Latino community, and second, to provide a platform for the Latino community to actively weigh in on water issues.

California is entering its fourth straight dry year, marking this state's worst drought in 500 years. A drought like this is wreaking havoc on the lives of Latino families and the communities they live in. And when you impact the Latino community, you are looking at a domino effect with epic proportions, because this affects restaurants, gas stations, truck drivers, gardeners, mom-and-pop shops, small business, schools and food projects.

Our situation is even grimmer. We have seen 40 percent unemployment in Mendota, Huron and Firebaugh.

We are living in America. And so I have to ask you, how is this happening? In my mind, I expect it to get even worse. We can conserve as much water as we can now, but if we don't get a reliable water supply, whole communities will be torn apart.

The unconscionable decision by State Water Resources Control Board Executive Director Tom Howard to deny additional pumping and water supply to our Central Valley communities is outrageous and immoral. His decision is a slap in the face to Latinos who live south of the delta.

Let me tell you something about the Latino community: Latinos want to work. They don't want a handout, and they don't want to be standing in food lines. People tell us at every place we stop to dialogue, how they are losing their jobs, cars and homes. Families are seeing their college dreams for their kids disappear. They tell us, "All I want to do is work."

We are seeing more women and men standing in lines for food baskets. People are being forced to make tough choices—to put food on the table or buy medication. We are also seeing too many families lacking life's basic necessities, like water for drinking, cooking and showering, because their wells have run dry. Another year with zero percent water will bring even more hardship to these families.

I've met farmers who have told me that if they didn't get water, they would have to lay off entire families of workers that have worked for them for generations. Farmers are of all races and nationalities. Many have started as farmworkers; they bought the acreage and now they are farmers. They are part of what makes this nation great.

People are very angry. You need to understand the total impact a bad decision will have on many of our communities.

We need water now!

It is a civil right.

It is a human right.

All of our communities request that the State Water Resources Control Board approve in full and allow state and federal agencies to collectively manage the Central Valley Project and State Water Project on a real-time basis, to provide water to our communities that are in dire need.

Our communities cannot afford any lesser operational flexibility during this unprecedented crisis.

I would hope that by the number of people who are present here today, and the many thousands who couldn't make the trip today, that you realize your actions don't just affect one industry; they affect the heart, soul and economic engine of the Central Valley.

I represent the very people who are most deeply affected; they are the people who cannot afford to wait for a solution to the water situation.

We need water today! We need water to keep our communities vibrant and our hopes and dreams alive. We are literally drying up and will blow away like dust in a field.

Without water, Latinos will have no jobs and no economy, creating a domino effect that will devastate all of California. The Latino community can no longer stand by and be marginalized in the water debate.

(María L. Gutiérrez of Fresno is a volunteer with El Agua es Asunto de Todos.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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