As one rides on the train through the heart of the Central Valley, one becomes engulfed by the rich agricultural roots of California. Its beautiful crops and peaceful imagery make the breadbasket of the world a sublime place to live. Nevertheless, absent its rivers, both the crops and generations of hardworking Americans who take care of them would dry up.
Residents in the Central Valley have a deep passion for the present and future of California water. Water is not simply a group of molecules that we need to be concerned about to take showers or water the lawn, but is a livelihood stewarded from generation to generation. Putting people at the forefront is the only way to begin a discussion about water.
Farmers are the heart and soul of the Central Valley and have been working to feed Americans and the world since the birth of our State. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, in 2017, California agricultural exports amounted to $20.56 billion. And many commodities that are produced in California account for 100% of the total U.S. Export Value, such as almonds, pistachios, artichokes, and table grapes. Additionally, the top counties that are agriculture producers hail from the Central Valley, Kern, Tulare, Fresno, Stanislaus, Merced, and San Joaquin. The only way California has become a substantial part of the agriculture world is due to the many farm workers that tend to the land.
The California agriculture industry employs a substantial amount of individuals. The April 2019 issue of California Agriculture by the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, states, “In 2016, monthly average employment in agriculture was 425,400, but the number of workers with at least one job in agriculture was 2.3 times that figure, 989,500.” These are just farm workers, as California’s agriculture industry has an impact on different industries such as, transportation, oil and gas, and education.
This industry cannot be ignored or diminished when the issue of water is discussed by our elected officials and the State Water Resources Control Board. Time and time again the individuals in these positions have used a one-track approach to solve the problems surrounding the State’s water issue.
Elected officials and the Board are always using the “public interest” to push their policies but they need to stop, listen, and learn because even though the agriculture industry may be blamed for the problems that the State faces with water; the industry is trying to find the best ways to conserve and use water efficiently without losing the same amount of yield that is demanded by the world. This requires the farmer to understand the soil their land sits on, the crop that coincides with that soil and the ability to apply the perfect amount of water to provide for the needs of many consumers.
Farmers and farm workers have been some of the leading environmentalists from the beginning. There is a large public interest that has been ignored in recent years and the way forward is by working with the agriculture industry to meet both their needs and the fish and wildlife needs because in everything that we do as Californians, water will always be needed and lives will always be involved. We need to look beyond the present and start managing water for the future by working towards the implementation and investment of new and updated infrastructure, and continue to have discussions as a whole State on the importance of water in our lives.
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Darin DuPont is a second-year law student at University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. He is born and raised in Merced County and received his B.S. in Public Administration with a concentration in Public Policy from George Mason University. Darin has worked for both policy and campaign interests in the Central Valley and Washington, D.C., recently working for an irrigation district. The views presented here are strictly his own.