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Valley lawmakers prod Newsom to declare drought emergency

Valley legislators are pressing Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency over California’s on-going water crisis amid the onset of another drought.

Wednesday, Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Andreas Borgeas (R–Fresno) and Assembly Agriculture Committee chairman Robert Rivas (D–Hollister) sent a letter

Joining Borgeas and Rivas were Sens. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield) and Anna Caballero (D–Salinas), along with Asms. Vince Fong (R–Bakersfield), Rudy Salas (D–Bakersfield), Devon Mathis (R–Visalia), Jim Patterson (R–Fresno), Frank Bigelow (R–O’Neals), and Heath Flora (R–Ripon), and Adam Gray (R–Merced).

Four Valley legislators, Sens. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) and Susan Eggman (D-Stockton), Asms. Joaquin Arambula (D–Fresno) and Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton), did not sign on to the request for an emergency declaration.

“At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers in the agricultural industry stepped up to keep food on the table for our state and nation,” the letter reads. “The pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of our food supply chain and highlighted the importance of food and water security to prevent California’s reliance on foreign imports.”

Borgeas, in a statement to The Sun, emphasized the national security element.

“As Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I have repeatedly stressed how water and food security is a key component of our national security,” Borgeas said in a statement. “This bipartisan request from Valley legislators demonstrates the dire need for the Governor’s administration to take action and deliver more water to farms and rural communities.”

The letter requests Newsom declare a statewide emergency over the drought, enable state agencies to have the flexibility to increase water allocations south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and grant lawmakers direct meetings with officials leading the California Department of Water Resources.

They also requested a financial assistance program for farmers given the state’s unanticipated revenues. 

Due to state regulations – largely driven by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act – more than 1 million acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland are expected to be fallowed over two to three decades because of reduced ground and surface water availability.

California is also expected to shed approximately 85,000 jobs lost as a direct result of reduced water access – not including indirect job loss from supporting industries.

Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.