February 26, 2014

State board coming to Merced County to discuss drought

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture will come to Merced next week to meet with the governor’s drought task force and local leaders to discuss the drought’s impact on the agriculture industry, the agency announced Wednesday.

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture will come to Merced next week to meet with the governor’s Drought Task Force and local leaders to discuss the drought’s impact on agriculture, the agency announced Wednesday.

Members of the task force are traveling around the state to meet with local officials to learn how communities are coping with drought effects.

“We are pleased to be assisting the Governor’s Drought Task Force in engaging with local communities and stakeholders,” said Craig McNamara, president of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture, in a news release. “It is critically important for the task force and the public to learn about the on-farm realities that California growers and farmworkers are facing.”

The meeting, which will be held Tuesday at UC Merced, comes on the heels of President Barack Obama’s visit to Merced County on Feb. 14 to address the water shortage. Earlier this week, county supervisors unanimously declared a local emergency in response to the drought.

The meeting next week allows state officials to update the public and local agricultural interests on what’s being done, including the emergency drought legislation announced Feb. 19 by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Merced County Farm Bureau President Jean Okuye was asked to sit on the local panel and share her thoughts during the meeting. Okuye said Merced County leaders need to think long-term about water conservation efforts instead of reacting to the current drought emergency.

“Declaring a (county) emergency is just a Band-Aid. We have to manage our water, and we haven’t been managing it, and this is the consequence,” Okuye said. “We know there is an emergency. We know there’s a drought. But are we doing anything about it? We need to manage it locally and think ahead.”

If Merced County doesn’t do those things, Okuye said, then state restrictions might be in store.

“We have to start thinking about how we can replenish our groundwater,” Okuye said. “If we had been managing our water all along, maybe we wouldn’t have had a crisis. And if we can’t manage it on a local level, there will be some regulations coming from the state.”

UC Merced spokesman Scott Jason-Hernandez said the meeting is an example of the kind of role the university can play in the community to facilitate important discussions on subjects such as the drought.

“The drought is having a statewide impact, and it’s important that everyone has an understanding of the discussions taking place,” Jason-Hernandez said. “It’s an opportunity for the local leaders to tell the governor’s task force about the impacts the drought has had on them. We’re happy to be able to open our doors to these type of meetings.”

The Drought Task Force leaders expected to attend are California Office of Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci; California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird; State Water Resources Control Board Chair Felicia Marcus; and Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.

The California State Board of Food and Agriculture advises the governor and Ross on agricultural issues and consumer needs. The state board conducts forums that bring together local, state and federal government officials, agricultural representatives and citizens to discuss current issues of concern to California agriculture, according to the news release.

Amanda Carvajal, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said Merced County has become ground zero for the drought because it’s been one of the most impacted areas in the state.

“It’s good to see those on the CDFA board are coming down to hear our views and come up with short-term and long-term solutions to this serious problem,” Carvajal said. “I’m glad they’re coming down here, and I hope it’s a productive conversation. That’s my goal with this meeting.”

The meeting will be held from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at UC Merced’s Terrace Center (California Room), 5200 Lake Road in Merced.


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