[env-trinity] Sac Bee OpEd May 1 2009
bwl3 at comcast.net
Sat May 2 13:34:39 PDT 2009
Jeffrey Michael: Water won't wash away Valley's recession
By Jeffrey Michael
Special to The Bee
Published: Friday, May. 1, 2009 - 12:00 am
What is causing unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley? According to water
contractors and their political supporters, a "regulatory drought" has
eliminated water-dependent farm jobs, and they point to high unemployment
rates in farming communities as proof. Their solution is to suspend the
Endangered Species Act and build a multibillion-dollar peripheral canal
around the Delta.
However, the facts don't support the water contractors' view. The latest
payroll data through March finds that farm jobs have grown faster than any
other sector of the economy in the past 12 months, even outpacing health
care. In fact, farm jobs have been growing throughout the three-year
drought. Compared with 2006, farm jobs have increased 5 percent in
California, while private nonfarm jobs have decreased 5 percent.
The same is true in <http://topics.sacbee.com/Fresno+County/> Fresno
County, home to communities such as Mendota that have been the focus of
water exporters' news releases.
In Fresno County, farm payrolls increased 3.2 percent in the past 12 months,
compared with a 3.4 percent decrease in private, nonfarm payrolls.
Since the drought began three years ago, Fresno County farm payrolls have
increased by 12 percent, while nonfarm employment has crashed, led by a loss
of more than 7,000 construction jobs.
In light of these statistics, how can water exporters, politicians and
others claim that rising unemployment in the Valley is a result of water
shortages for farms rather than the broader recession? The foreclosure
crisis is at the heart of the recession, and the Central Valley has the
highest foreclosure rates in the United States. Homebuilding has shut down,
and service sectors have cratered, costing many former farmworkers their
higher paying, nonseasonal jobs.
Water contractors point to 40 percent unemployment in Mendota as evidence of
the water crisis. These unemployment estimates for towns aren't a current
survey, but are crude extrapolations from the 2000 Census, the last time any
real data were compiled for these areas.
The 2000 census gives a good picture of the prosperity that increased water
pumping would bring to Mendota's hard-working residents. Delta water exports
were above average in 2000, and local farm employment was at a nine-year
peak. Despite this, the 2000 census found unemployment in Mendota exceeded
32 percent, highest of the state's 494 towns.
Per-capita income was below $8,000, the lowest level in the state, nearly 20
percent lower than Mexico and many developing nations in Africa,
<http://topics.sacbee.com/Eastern+Europe/> Eastern Europe and
<http://topics.sacbee.com/South+America/> South America. Not surprisingly,
water contractors don't issue news releases about unemployment when they
In fact, growers have been complaining about shortages in recent years, even
as Mendota's unemployment estimate was 25 to 30 percent.
There will be substantially fewer seasonal farm jobs this year as thousands
of acres are idled, and this will further increase the pain of the recession
in farming areas south of the Delta water pumps. As these impacts appear, it
is important to consider them over the entire three-year span of the
drought, rather than treat agriculture's recent unsustainable peak as
In the early years of the drought, agriculture expanded in response to a
commodity bubble that more than doubled crop prices, farm profits, and
farmland values in a span of a few years. Much of the increase is attributed
to permanent crops in desert regions with interruptible junior water rights.
Between 2006 and 2008, more than 50,000 acres of new almond orchards were
planted, mostly south of the Delta pumps, while a nut glut led to a price
collapse for all growers. Similarly, California's enormous dairy industry
expanded rapidly, and now taxpayers are spending millions to buy surplus
milk and prop up prices in an oversupplied market.
Taxpayers are the forgotten stakeholders in the various Delta planning
processes. With no one protecting taxpayer interests, it's no surprise that
Delta Vision recommended the most costly options to the governor. The Bay
Delta Conservation Plan does not plan to make a cost estimate of their plan
until after it is complete.
Recent state tax increases are hurting families, businesses and private
sector job creation, while California has the lowest bond rating of any
state. Water contractors think the state should borrow billions for their
cause, crowding out investments in education, energy, transportation and
other critical areas that will support the high-paying jobs of the future.
Their plan would also have adverse impacts on Delta agriculture, recreation
and tourism, commercial fishing and the jobs supported by these industries.
Delta Vision, water contractors and now the Bay Delta Conservation Plan are
primarily making economic arguments for their plans. While spending millions
on engineering studies and public relations, the state is not sponsoring any
serious research to comprehensively evaluate economic effects of the water
California's overburdened taxpayers deserve better.
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land
415 519 4810 cell
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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