Voices of the Central Valley rang out across the Capitol corridor as more than one thousand citizens passionately yelled “stop the water grab!” The young and old, farm owners, farm workers, healthcare professionals, government officials and engaged citizens gathered together on August 20th in Sacramento to tell the appointed State Water Commission that we care...that we will not go down without a fight. Assemblyman Adam Gray, who was credited with organizing the event, impressed upon the crowd that we were all there as one, not as Republicans nor Democrats or any other category designed to separate us; this was a fight worthy of uniting all communities within the Golden State.
Merced County was represented well and made her voice heard. Merced County Farmers Bureau (MCFB) transported fifty members of the Merced community to the rally bus. Seventeen buses from across the state carried almost one thousand people from as far north as Butte and as south as Tulare. Breanna Ramos, Executive Director of the MCFB was proud of the way the Farm Bureau network came together to make this happen as well as the support they received. She said, “We have a great system in the Farm Bureau. For us it is as simple as picking up the phone and calling our neighbors to say, ‘Let's get this rally going!’ Assemblyman Gray and the Merced County video were a huge support of rally people to join our bus campaign.”
President of the MCFB, Gino Pedretti, said that following the rally, “I hope people understand that we have to keep pushing the Water Board’s focus on this issue because this is vital to our area. It’s part of our job at MCFB to educate people on this so that they understand the economic impact of this decision.”
The speakers, ranging from elected officials, health care professionals, and FFA leaders from counties across The Valley spoke about the importance of protecting our livelihood by fighting for our water. Their tone was consistent: ‘this water plan will destroy our communities as we know it’. In spite of this, no one showed signs of defeat.
Gray opened with a powerful moment in history by sharing, “At the groundbreaking of the San Luis reservoir in 1962, as stated by President John Kennedy. ‘We can see the greenest and richest earth, producing the greatest and richest crops in the country, and a mile away we see that same earth, brown and dusty and useless. All because there is water in one place and there isn’t in another.’” Gray spoke about the legacy of our water structure over the last 50 years, compared it to the present, and spoke of the situation ahead of us. “Today our community has come to the steps of the Capitol to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear...a plan that kills an entire economy of the state isn’t unavoidable, it’s unacceptable. This plan asks those of us with the fewest means to make the greatest sacrifice. It is unbalanced, unscientific.”
Mayor Mike Murphy fought for our local economy. “The state has invested billions towards growth in Merced with the University of California, Merced, affordable housing programs, and passenger rail. We have also invested in ourselves and in our future for generations including building and paying for water infrastructure. However, none of that is sustainable without a source of water, which the state is taking away under this plan...If the state takes Merced River water it will have a crushing effect on the Central Valley. I am here today to urge the State Water Resources Control Board to abandon its water grab and work with the local water districts to implement their plan based on real science that would increase flows, restore habitat, upgrade hatcheries, and reduce predation. Let science work.”
Merced FFA President, Jared Crossman, stated that he was proud to be amongst the blue and gold (the colors of FFA) that stood behind him. That “these people are the future of agriculture. If we get the water we want, they [FFA] will be the ones producing what you need with the water that we get. We're going to fight until this stops.”
State Senator, Anthony Cannella said this is the biggest thing we have ever fought in the Central Valley. “Agriculture has been the one bright light we've had through the downtimes. I’m excited to say we’ve grown as an economy but we can’t leave agriculture behind.”
Our community is on the steps of the Capitol to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear. They are all worried about one thing. Our future. On a sunny blue day one thing was clear, we're a community that is in this together and there's hope in a future where we're not alone.
One message stood out. The President of the California Farm Bureau Federation, Jaime Johansson, stated, “We’re not here to be angry, we’re here for a solution.” He continued, “like many of you, I’d rather be on my farm taking care of my land, wishing that Sacramento would take their foot off of my neck. But there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough. Today is that day...Today is about everyone benefiting from California’s water system...There is a way to use positive and collaborative and local approaches that we know help the environment, and still allow farms and communities to thrive. We propose to cooperate to work together and to implement positive solutions.” Merced County resident and bus-rider for the day, Bob Salles, said “it’s not about me in this situation, it’s about we.” Both shared the true intent coming out of today’s rally - that there’s power in working together to accomplish a goal versus fighting against one another.
The fight for our water does not stop because the rally has ended. Your voice matters. Continue to use it and share your concerns with your elected officials. Educate yourself on this issue if you’re new to following it. This decision will impact each and every life in Merced County, the Central Valley, and beyond. Follow CA bill 579, introduced by Senator Galgiani on 8/20/18, to watch the continued progress of the water fight and make your voice heard!