Ag has credibility in water debate

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proved prophetic, if not action-packed, when he appeared at the Walk for Water rally on the banks of San Luis Reservoir in mid-April.

Schwarzenegger invoked the United Farmworkers of America to encourage the 15,000 farm workers and farmers who participated in the Walk for Water to not stop at one march and rally, but continue to call attention to their plight.

The governor did not win any friends with his mention of the UFW at the rally, since the labor union for farm workers was conspicuously absent from the rally then and continues to boycott the effort for whatever reason.

However, Schwarzenegger’s admonition to continue the fight has proven predictive.

That was obviously the plan of the Latino Water Coalition, its firebrand leader, comedian and former farm worker Paul Rodriquez and the farmers.

Since the rally in April, there have been other well-organized rallies, marches and even a protest outside of Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s Bay area office with thousands of participants that the television cameras and newspapers cannot ignore. Those efforts have put water on the front page of every newspaper and on every newscast in the state for weeks.

Marching side-by-side are participants from across the full spectrum of those impacted by the lack of water for agriculture on the West Side of the San Joaquin Valley. Town mayors and city managers, farmers, farm workers, ag suppliers, tractor dealers — all have walked together for a common cause — some for the first time ever.

Spokespersons for the rallies have been articulate before the cameras. The marches have been orderly and constructive in their efforts to explain the issue. They have obviously been well-funded, as they should be.

And they continue, even as the Delta pumps kicked into high gear July 1, as the limited pumping deadline passes for protecting the smelt.

I have not seen any polls that gauge public awareness in the wake of all the rallies and publicity. However, I hear my urban friends refer often to the state water crisis and its impact on workers and communities now when they did not before. Unfortunately, in the past when the water issue was discussed, many of those same urbanites mimicked the media’s rich farmer/subsidies water line. No more. It is now a well-publicized people issue that is in front of every Californian almost daily.

California agriculture has had a reputation for being fragmented, unable to agree on major issues. That rap started going away with the repeal of the tractor tax several years ago. The water rallies have strengthened that unity.

In the exchange of ideas on how to mitigate the state’s water crisis, there are those in agriculture, especially in the Delta, who are leery of a peripheral canal and other Delta water preservation efforts. Their fears cannot be dismissed. However, this well orchestrated effort by San Joaquin Valley civic and agricultural leaders to take the water crisis to all Californians is proving that the state’s No. 1 industry has credibility and the wherewithal to have a significant influence. All segments of agriculture are now represented at the water crisis solution debate, including Delta interests.

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