With the unemployment on the rise in the state, 11.5 percent for May, Governor Schwarzenegger
last Friday afternoon activated the California Disaster Assistance Act for Fresno County
and called for the federal government to make a federal disaster declaration for the county.
But this declaration unlike those used in response to the destruction caused by natural
disasters is in response to providing temporary supplemental assistance to local governments
and non-profit organizations that supply food and other aid to those who are impacted by the
drought statewide. The order also waives the one-week waiting period for unemployment

Driving through the Central Valley, specifically along Interstate 5, the impact from the combination
of the three years of drought is very noticeable as many fields lie fallow and signs dot the former farm
lands claiming you are viewing a 'Congress Created Dust Bowl.' Studies estimate that as of May, the
lack of water in the San Joaquin Valley, California's Central Valley has cost 35,000 jobs and $830
million in farm revenue.


“California’s Central Valley is our nation’s agricultural engine and unemployment here is devastating
the economy and hurting the people of California,” says Schwarzenegger. “These are dire circumstances
– no water means no work – and no work means people cannot feed their families. This drought is truly
an emergency and the actions we are taking today show how government can still work for the people
when they need it most,” according to Schwarzenegger

The drought has been coupled with federal court orders restricting the pumping of fresh water from
the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to the Central Valley south of Tracy. Much of the west side of
the valley has depended on water from the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project for
crop irrigation. In February, Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to drought conditions
statewide and ordered immediate action to manage the crisis. Friday’s executive order builds on the
earlier proclamation and allows for additional assistance.

In addition to the Governor’s declaration, U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are
calling on President Obama to issue a federal disaster declaration for Fresno County to assist the
region in obtaining emergency food, job training, crisis counseling, legal services and unemployment
assistance. The federal assistance would help thousands of Fresno County residents who have lost
their jobs and are struggling to feed their families because of severe drought conditions. A disaster
declaration would also help ensure the long-term vitality of one of the nation’s leading agricultural

Information from both of the Senators illustrate that the lack of water has affected 450,000 acres in
Fresno County alone, and many more throughout the state. Fresno county officials report that 3,265
jobs have been lost as a result of the drought and at least 2,200 more are expected to be lost as
conditions worsen.“Most of these jobs are at the low end of the economic scale -- the people who
can least afford to lose a job,” the letter says. “Unemployment is over 15 percent in Fresno County
and an appalling 39 percent in the city of Mendota.” Last week, Schwarzenegger said he was pursuing
a federal disaster declaration at the request of Fresno County, pointing to the need for unemployment
assistance, food, crisis counseling and more. “We expect that similar requests may be made for other
counties in the near future,” the senators warn.

However, the Environmental Defense Fund, EDF believes that unemployment in the Central Valley
has historically been high even in non-drought years and is currently exacerbated by the worldwide
recession and precipitous decline in housing construction and not entirely by cutbacks in water
supplies. “No doubt the drought plays a role, but its role has been greatly exaggerated. Even if the
pumps that divert water from the Delta to the Central Valley and Southern California were run at full
capacity, and drove certain species into extinction, the Valley's problems would not be solved,” the
group says. The EDF says efforts to oppose the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent “biological
opinion” that diminished water supplies in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta are harming a long food
chain of fish, will only “prolong and fuel the decades-long conflicts that have plagued water management
in California.” The EDF says it is encouraged by the reports from the California Department of Water
Resources and the Central Valley Project showing that water supply in most parts of the valley “will be
in excess of 80 percent of average levels this year.” But, it says, “to blame the Central Valley's
unemployment problems on a court decision that reinforces regulations designed to protect fisheries
on the brink of extinction is to misdiagnose the problem.” 
                                                           Interior's Salazar

Meanwhile, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he will hold hearings in California on the
prolonged drought that has turned fields into dust bowls and resulted in a spike in rural crime, high
unemployment and low property values. Salazar's visit to Fresno Sunday underscores the dire situation
farmers, businesses and residents face as the nation's most productive agricultural state struggles
through the third year of drought, compounded by cutbacks in water deliveries from the Sacramento-
San Joaquin Delta to protect endangered fish. He'll be joined by his top deputy and members of the
California congressional delegation.

Tim Johnson



What did you think of this article?

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  • 7/23/2009 7:13 PM Marla wrote:
    Water shortage is a 50-yr set up farce. Our water is being re-directed beyond Millerton, Friat, Madera for upcoming development of casinos, dams, housing, golf courses.
    Reply to this
  • 12/15/2009 1:09 PM Stallrest wrote:
    The current signs do no have a clear enough message.
    The signs should be set up like the old Burma Shave signs. For instance: CONGRESS SAYS/NO FOOD/GROWN HERE/FOR YOU. Where an orchard's water has been cut off: CONGRESS/KILLED/THESE/(fruit, nut,etc.)TREES.
    The reader must come away with the message that Congress is taking food out of the reader's mouth
    Reply to this
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