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Water, not talk, will help California farmers

California agriculture needs help with water supplies now, and it's not happening.

Published on March 21, 2014 9:02AM

Our View

With nearly 78,000 farms and the $42 billion in crops hanging in the balance, one would think California’s political leaders — and their counterparts at the federal level — would devote more than lip service to the drought and water crisis facing the state’s farmers.

The dithering at all levels of government leads an observer to wonder whether any of them understand — or care — how serious the situation is. It’s as though giving a speech and promising disaster checks is sufficient.

At stake is not just farmers and ranchers and their livelihoods, it’s much of the food supply for the nation. Fully 15 percent of the nation’s fruits and vegetables and 7 percent of its livestock are raised in California. If a significant percentage of them were to disappear, food prices nationwide would increase.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, here are the top crops produced in the state and their values:

• Milk — $6.9 billion

• Grapes — $4.449 billion

• Almonds — $4.347 billion

• Nursery plants — $3.543 billion

• Cattle, calves — $3.299 billion

• Strawberries — $1.939 billion

• Lettuce — $1.448 billion

• Walnuts — $1.349 billion

• Hay — $1.237 billion

• Tomatoes — $1.170 billion

Every one of these crops needs water, and lots of it, yet the “leadership” — we use that term loosely — prefers to establish task forces and studies. President Barack Obama, during a recent quick trip to Fresno, promised some money — and help from NASA.

But what they don’t promise is seeking a way to get more water to the fields and the livestock.

It’s no secret that at least part of the problem is state and federal water managers’ the single-minded fixation on the welfare of the delta smelt. For years, water has been diverted past once-productive farms to supply that tiny fish. Because it is protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, a fish is deemed more important than food.

We’re not saying the delta smelt should be left high and dry. What we’re suggesting is a compromise, rotating the water supply so that farms and ranches, cities and suburbs all get an adequate supply.

To exacerbate a true disaster by denying water to farmers, ranchers — and all citizens of California — for the benefit of a fish is short-sighted and, in the end, could spell disaster for a major California industry.

Already, farmers and ranchers are fallowing fields, pulling out orchards, selling off cattle and taking other drastic steps in an effort to make it through this year.

Oh, there are plenty of task forces accompanied by promises, but farmers and ranchers need water, not more hot air.


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