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Schwarzenegger: Water Conservationist or Big Ag Stooge?

by Dan Bacher
In yet another attempt to cast himself in the role of the "Green Governor," Arnold Schwarzenegger today announced the launch of the state Department of Water Resources and Association of California Water Agencies’ “Save Our Water” public education program. This took place just a few days after the Governor campaigned for a peripheral canal and more dams at a grower-organized "March for Water."

Schwarzenegger cynically invokes the name of Cesar Chavez, UFW founder, at the "March for Water."

Schwarzenegger: Water Conservationist or Big Ag Stooge?

Arnold Promotes Canal and Dams At Growers' 'Rally for Water'

by Dan Bacher

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has acted in a number of roles, ranging from the "Green Governor," to the "Dam Builder," to the "Fish Terminator," during his gubernatorial career. He played yet another role, "Arnold, the Water Conservationist," when he announced the launch of "Save Our Water” public education program by the state Department of Water Resources and Association of California Water Agencies Tuesday.

“In California, water is essential to our jobs, our schools, our families, our environment and our economy," said Schwarzenegger. "With a drought, court-ordered water restrictions and an increasing population, the time for action is now. Making sure Californians have the water we need to keep our economy strong and our people working has never been more critical. This is what the ‘Save our Water’ campaign is all about, and I encourage all Californians to be a part of the solution.”

However, the same Governor who Tuesday called for increased water conservation last Friday joined a "March for Water" sponsored by corporate agribusiness and the California Latino Water Coalition under the guise of a "farmworker" march. Schwarzenegger used his speech at San Luis Reservoir, the last stop of the march, as another opportunity to push his unsustainable proposal to build a peripheral canal and more dams.

In the eyes of Schwarzenegger and corporate agribusiness, building Temperance Flat and Sites Dams and "improving conveyance" - constructing a peripheral canal - are the "solutions" to a crisis created by massive exports of northern California water to grow cotton and other crops on drainage-impaired land that should have never been irrigated.

The march had three goals, according to the organizers:

• to temporarily and immediately relieve "severe Endangered Species Act standards" that are preventing much needed pumping from the Delta to other regions of California.

• Second, to urge state legislators to agree on one comprehensive water plan to put before voters as a bond measure in the next election.

• Third, to call for public funds for those facing remarkable hardship and federal stimulus dollars to address shovel-ready water infrastructure projects.

“This march is about opening our eyes to the reality of California’s water crisis – and the reality is that farmers do not have a reliable water supply they can count on, farm workers fear losing their jobs because crops are not being planted, and in towns across the Central Valley, unemployment is skyrocketing,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I am determined to getting a comprehensive solution done once and for all that will update our water infrastructure, increase our water storage and restore our Delta.”

Schwarzenegger claimed that the lack of water "has forced California farmers to abandon or leave unplanted more than 100,000 acres of agricultural land" and total income losses to farmers and other businesses involved in crop production could reach $644 million this year.

The Governor has supported the California Latino Water Coalition, chaired by actor and comedian Paul Rodriguez, since its formation in 2007. The Governor first appeared with the Coalition in April 2007, when the group endorsed a water bond including a canal and new dams, and again last July to highlight his "compromise plan" with Senator Dianne Feinstein, also including new dams and "improved conveyance.

"We cannot ask a tree to wait a week, Governor," said Rodriguez after Schwarzenegger spoke, trying to convey a gloom and doom scenario for west side San Joaquin Valley agribusiness unless exports into the Delta pumps are increased. "The tree has to have water. Our fields are turning into kindling wood. I know you have the power to do that. Everyone here is on the same side. Now what do we do now?"

UFW Refused to Endorse March

Schwarzenegger cynically invoked the memory of Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farmworkers Union at the rally.

"César Chávez knew the power of a good march -- he led by example and he never stopped trying until he found a way," said Schwarzenegger. "And this is exactly what we are going to do. We never will stop until we find a way, find a way together here, because this is the right thing to do, because we need water, we need water, we need water, we need water."

In spite of Schwarzenegger's attempt to invoke Chavez's name at the rally, the UFW and other farmworker advocacy groups didn't endorse or support it. In a press statement, the United Farm Workers described the march as a "grower-sponsored march."

“We don't oppose farmers getting access to more water, but that access should be tied to farm workers’ access to clean drinking water in the fields," according to the UFW. "The State of California continues to fail at protecting that basic right for farmworkers while Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger continues to oppose farm workers winning the right to protect that right themselves."

"In reality, this is not a farmworker march," said UFW president Arturo Rodriguez, as quoted in a New York Times article by Malia Wollan on April 16. "This is a farmer march orchestrated and financed by growers."

Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, campaign director of Restore the Delta, maintains that "turning up the pumps and increasing exports," as Central Valley growers, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Latino Water Coalition aim to do, "will just shift the economic hardship from one part of the state to another."

Schwarzenegger and his allies are trying to pit Delta farmworkers against San Joaquin Valley farmworkers - and recreational and commercial fishermen in northern California against Central Valley farmworkers and rural communities. Powerful corporate agribusiness interests are trying to divide communities that have much in common with one another by promoting a false conflict of "fish versus jobs" in order to ram through water policies that will only benefit rich and powerful growers such as those in Westlands Water District.

"Pitting the needs of one farm worker community against another is wrong," according to Barrigan-Parrilla. "Environmental justice advocates, who address environmental impacts on the poor and people of color, do not advocate for the benefit of one environmental justice community against the needs of other environmental justice communities."

She emphasized. "Solving the economic challenges of farm worker communities in the Central Valley and the Delta must be done in a compassionate and moral way so as to recognize the dignity of the work that farm workers perform in the present, while providing them with new opportunities to become productive members of a diverse middle class California economy. In addition, numerous workers in the fishing and recreation industries are workers of color who must also be protected by environmental justice advocacy."

Increased Water Exports Threaten Fishing Industry and Delta Farm Jobs

The claim by Schwarzenegger and his allies that the battle to restore the Delta is a conflict between "fish and jobs" fails to recognize that the Delta sustains thousands of jobs and contributes billions of dollars every year to the state's economy.

According to Barrigan-Parrilla, the Delta Protection Commission in 1995 estimated that over 6,000 jobs were tied to recreational fishing within the Delta. Somewhere between 12,000 and 23,000 jobs in California are tied to commercial fishing, which has been beaten down over the last two years by the closing of the Chinook salmon fishery that passes through the Delta. These two economies have an estimated value of over $ 1.5 billion annually.

Farmworker jobs on the Delta are also directly threatened by the Governor's support of increased water exports and a peripheral canal.

"The 500,000 acres of farmland in the Delta is divided between the five Delta counties (San Joaquin, Solano, Contra Costa, Sacramento, and Yolo)," said Parrilla. "A rough estimate from one of the Delta County Agricultural Extension Offices three years ago (before the rise in crop prices) put direct Delta agriculture revenues at $500,000,000 per year. A modest multiplier of six (which accounts for money made in subsequent related agricultural industries) would put related Delta agricultural revenues at $ 3 billion annually."

As in other farming regions in California, thousands of farm workers, both permanent and seasonal, work on Delta farms. "With increased exports, or new conveyance that would permanently reroute Delta fresh water flows to the export pumps, Delta agriculture would fail to thrive," she explained.

She also said the peripheral canal, like turning up the pumps, is also not the answer. "It cannot make more water. It will just reroute water to growers who have junior water rights at the expense of Delta communities," she stated.

"What is also needed are new strategies for creating new sources of water so that our brothers and sisters in the Central Valley will have enough water to support their communities' needs," said Parrilla. "Restore the Delta again calls for Federal, State, and local political leaders to create programs that will support regional self sufficiency. Let's harness our technology and our state's brain trust to figure out how to use floodplains during wet periods in order to recharge the Central Valley groundwater basin. Then using solar technology, we can pump water for agricultural needs during dry times."

Schwarzenegger's hypocritical call for "water conservation" while he is campaigning for a peripheral canal and more dams to benefit corporate agribusiness occurs at a time when California fisheries and fishing communities are in their greatest-ever crisis. Commercial salmon fishing season is closed for a second time this year, while recreational salmon fishing in the ocean off California is restricted to a 10 day Chinook season in late August and early September in a limited area off the North Coast. The fishery is closed due to the collapse of the Central Valley Chinook salmon run, a victim of increased water exports, declining water quality in Central Valley rivers and poor ocean conditions.

Meanwhile, populations of delta smelt, longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass, threadfin shad, American shad, Sacramento splittail, green sturgeon and other species have crashed to record low population levels in the California Delta in recent years. The three main causes of the dramatic decline are increased water exports, toxic chemicals and invasive species.

Building a canal and more dams will only increase water exports to subsidized, unsustainable agribusiness - when less water exports, more water conservation and retirement of drainage impaired land are what's needed to create an economy based on sustainable fisheries and farms.

For more information about what you can do to Restore the Delta, go to

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Comments (Hide Comments)
by Growing crops in drought conditions
San Joaquin regional climate is near desert, nearly regular drought conditions over the summer, with limited snow runoff to cover the irrigation demands of current grower crop choices of cotton, lettuce, fruit trees, etc...

Neither flow of rivers nor regional climate conditions will be changed by humans without some serious and devastating consequences, such as loss of riparian keystone species like salmon, sturgeon and smelt. The mountains and location of the San joaquin Valley ensures it will remain mostly hot and dry near desert conditions for the next few decades at least, probably longer. Given these two factors exist, that leaves growers in the unique position to be the source of change and relief for dying rivers IF ONLY the growers voluntarily change their crop to drought tolerant species (tepary beans, jojoba, nopales cacti, etc...) that do not require as large of water input and will "make more fruit with less water", instead of the current norms of overly thirsty crops sucking up large amounts of irrigation water..

By switching to drought tolerant species like tepary beans, farmworkers can remain employed on the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, and the salmon, sturgeon and smelt can survive in their riparian habitats without fearing the loss of their water from theft by wastefull and thoughtless agribusiness corporations too focused on short term profit to bother with future sustainability issues..

Tepary beans are marketable crops, high in many nutrients and protein, making a great meat substitute for vegans and vegetarians. Tepary beans are sold at local farmer's markets in Arizona, so why not in CA??

"Downtown Phoenix Public Market is a traditional open air market in downtown Phoenix Arizona. The Maricopa Agricultural Center is a frequent vendor selling brown and white Tepary beans. They may not be present every week, but the gathering of crafters, local artists and farmers make the market a treat to visit."

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