One of the most important issues facing our county and the Central Valley right now is the lack of water.
Yes, there have been discussions held on the topic of drought, newscasts showing sunken parts of the ground, editorials, reports and other documentation of the situation.
You’ve heard of the many effects, such as farmers not able to grow their crops, the loss of jobs that creates and the increase in the region’s unemployment. All of this has a negative impact on our children, physically and psychologically.
We are also faced with the state Water Resources Control Board and its proposal to take 35 percent of the water flow from the Merced, Tuolumne and Stanislaus rivers to further enhance the protection of fish and wildlife.
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I understand the importance of preserving our fish and wildlife, but within reason; and the plan they are proposing doesn’t seem to be very reasonable. They are focusing on a region that Merced County is part of and is one of the most economically distressed in the state.
It is home to a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state, has a high poverty level, and is still struggling the lingering effects of the recession.
Has the state board taken this into consideration?
According to the Merced County Economic Data from the 2009-2013 U.S. Census Bureau, our county poverty level is at 25.4 percent as compared to the states 15.9 percent; the total of Hispanic-owned farms are at 24.8 percent as compared to the states 16.5 percent; and the median household income in Merced is $42,592 as compared to the state’s $61,094.
These figures are very real and they manifest themselves in the faces of our most vulnerable population; the poor, the unemployed and the underserved.
When a child sees and feels the stress in a parent due to their loss of a job, they too become stressed and it affects their performance in school. When people struggle to find ways to feed their families and pay the bills, life can seem so hopeless that some resort to desperate measures.
How can we expect families to thrive and survive in a community that is being threatened by the loss of even more jobs? How can we expect families that are on the borderline of poverty, see any hope of success if we deprive them of the basic resources to survive?
One of our local agencies, the Merced Irrigation District, is working tirelessly to help residents, organizations and businesses understand the full scope and the severity of this proposal by the Water Resources Control Board.
The Merced Irrigation District has collaborated and worked together continuously with other local agencies, including the city and county of Merced, to improve water use. For example, after the last drought 35 or so years ago, MID collaborated with the city on a study called the Merced Water Supply Plan. It benefited our groundwater supply by coming up with several improvements in water use and delivery.
Today, there is the Integrated Regional Water Management Plan that came about from the collaboration of MID, the city and county of Merced, and other stakeholders to focus on the maintenance and preservation of groundwater.
MID is and has been doing its part in finding solutions to improve management of water resources for the entire community. In addition, MID recharges the groundwater talent in eastern Merced County through percolation from its 700 miles of open channels. This helps cities that pump water for domestic use.
But if the proposal from the state moves forward the communities in Merced County and elsewhere in the Valley will be adversely impacted because MID could lose the ability to recharge groundwater.
John Sweigard, MID’s general manager, puts the threat in perspective: “We already have one of the most disadvantaged communities in the state, with more than a quarter of our residents living below the federal poverty level. Water and agriculture are our strongest resources driving our limited economy. Both are directly threatened under this proposal. Simply taking more water will not solve the salmon “problem” but it will destroy our community.”
This is the time for us, as residents of the county of Merced, to stand up for our communities and mobilize our efforts to protect what belongs to us. MID can’t do it alone, the city of Merced can’t do it alone, and the county of Merced can’t do it alone. They need the support of the public and their communities.
We all need to be advocates for a more reasonable solution than what the Water Resources Control Board is proposing.
If we don’t show unity and solidarity in opposition of this proposal, we will all suffer the consequences of greater despair on all economic levels directly or indirectly, and then we’re going to wonder what happened.
Irene De La Cruz is a resident of Planada and has been involved with a number of community events and projects throughout Merced County. She owns her own business. She attended Merced College and California State University, Sacramento. She can be contacted at dlcirenel@ gmail.com.