In California, where drought conditions are severe, regulations that prevent water from reaching desperate farmers prompted thousands of farmers to rally Wednesday in protest. At the same time the rally was held, farmers were in Washington to testify at a congressional field hearing about the impact of the regulations on their livelihoods.
Farmers were irate and despondent over the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last week that kept federal guidelines for the distribution of California water in place. Those guidelines, originally designed in 2008 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, limited the flow of water from Northern California to the drought-stricken southern part of the state, all to protect the Delta smelt, an endangered fish. They were overturned by a lower court then reinstated by the Ninth U.S. Circuit.
Alfalfa farmer Michael Erskine, who said the water cuts added to the drought have cut his bottom line in half, said, “It’s devastating, it’s like I’ll have to sell something. I’ll have to sell half to maintain the other half.” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) added, “I’m looking at tens of thousands of people being out of work. We’re probably going to have upwards of five, six, seven hundred thousand acres of farm ground that’s going to be out of production.”
Environmentalists praised the decision by arguing transferring water from the Delta wouldn’t solve anything. Kate Poole, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, stated:
Taking more water out of the Delta is not going to solve our problems. The emergency drought is a state-wide problem that affects all of us – from farmers to fisherman to the average citizen. And it’s the drought, not the Delta, that’s affecting the water supply this year. That’s why Delta fisherman and farmers support these protections – because their jobs and livelihoods depend on it. While we can’t make it rain, we can take charge of our water use by investing in smart water practices that protect and preserve our water supply.
Meanwhile, experts estimate retail food prices will rise by 3.5% as a result of the drought and the water cuts.
Mario Santoyo, executive director of the California Latino Water Coalition, argued that the lack of water is a killing problem. He asserted, “You’re not going to grow anything with zero water, whether it’s the lettuce that goes into your In-N-Out burger, whether it’s the tomatoes that you use for your salsa, whether it’s the nuts that you use for your health food – all of that gets impacted here.”
Cannon Michael with the Bowles Farming Company added, “It is true that we’re in a drought condition, but it’s also true there’s a lot of regulations that are hampering water deliveries and really making it tough for the valley – some of them don’t make a whole lotta sense.”
Erskine has lost hope. He said of his son, “I don’t know what to tell him for a future. Don’t be a farmer. Government gets in the way.”