Farmworkers Rally for More Water for California's Farms

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A thousand farm workers from the Central Valley rallied on the steps of the State Capitol today demanding more water for California's farms. Climate change, the drought, and court-ordered restrictions in water have forced farmers to let crops die and to plant fewer acres. KPCC's Julie Small reports that's cost many farmworkers their jobs.

[Protesters chanting "Agua, agua, agua!"]

Julie Small: Hundreds of farm workers stood in 97 degree heat holding signs that read "Agua Iguala Trabajo" – "Water Equals Work." Jose Beltran drove four hours from the Central Valley town of Huron. It's off Interstate 5 near the Harris Ranch feed lot. He says the state's drought and 30 percent cuts in water for agriculture are hurting his community.

Jose Beltran: I've seen how my town of 5,000 is just, it's being deserted, you know? All the stores are going empty. That small town is completely dependent on agriculture.

Small: The California Department of Food and Agriculture estimates statewide crop losses from drought total a quarter of a billion dollars, so far. In his town, Jose Beltran says the drop in agricultural production this year means...

Beltran: The fact that people have no jobs, people are working just a few hours – four or six hours at the most.

Small: Jose's cousin Armando Murillo expect the pain to spread. He works for a welding company that fixes farming equipment.

Armando Murillo: Most of the people here are here because they lost their jobs already or are about to lose their jobs. Which is telling me that maybe I'm not gonna have a job by the end of the year. I'm not going to be working on those tractors. I'm not going to be working on those tomato machines, or anything like that, because of the water drought.

Small: The workers came to Sacramento to demand a solution, and they have one in mind: Governor Schwarzenegger's $9 billion proposal to fix California's water system, which includes 3 billion for building a dam or two. The governor joined the rally for a few minutes to lap up support.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger: I mean, you are all doing your job. You are going to provide work and you are raising families and you're feeding the world, and you're working hard, but our water system is not anymore working for you! And so now we have to make sure – (interrupted by applause)

Small: The governor's going to need a lot more support for his water fix. He hopes to put the $9 billion bond on the November ballot. But first, he has to get Democrats to agree. That won't be easy. The legislature's trying to close a $15 billion deficit. Democrats say conservation and cleanup will increase the state's water supply cheaper and faster than spending billions to build new dams.