Central Valley

Drought weighs heavy on Central Valley farmers, workers

Eli Ayala, a supervisor for a west Fresno County farm labor contractor, is growing weary of telling people there is no work. Ayala’s company and many others like his are being hurt by the continued fallout over a shortage of irrigation water for San Joaquin Valley farmers. The lack of water has resulted in the fallowing of thousands of acres that normally would be growing tomatoes, lettuce or melons.

He spoke, emotionally at times, before a meeting of the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Fresno on Wednesday.

“It is so hard to see people asking for money because they have no milk for their children,” said Ayala, who works for the Riverdale-based Ayala Corp. “But I can’t provide jobs. There is no work.”

Ayala was among a crowd of more than a 100 people that included workers, farmers, government officials and the environmental community who all were pushing for some relief.

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation delivered the bad news many growers have been fearing: no federal water. West-side farmers get water from Northern California rivers through canals belonging to the federally operated Central Valley Project.

The bureau’s announcement stems from complex problems, including three consecutive dry winters and reduced water pumping to protect dwindling fish in Northern California rivers.