In July, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger traveled the state describing his water plan that calls for $5.9 billion in improvements and new construction. More specifically: $4.5 billion for additional above- and below-the-ground water storage, $1 billion to shore up major needs in California’s Delta, and $450 million for water conservation and management.
The governor is right on the mark when he says water infrastructure is a statewide issue and one that desperately needs to be addressed. From the California-Oregon border south to past San Diego, we are all literally and intricately linked by this one critical necessity. Increasing demand on a fixed water resource as our population soars makes it easy to see why we need to be engaged and that includes those who are elected to public office.
I also believe Latino elected officials have a lot at stake in California water policy. Latino electeds have a significant interest in representing all California residents to secure a reliable water supply. What’s more, Latino elected officials have a duty to bring this issue home to the people they represent, many of whom are only a generation removed from farm workers and others in the agriculture industry.
A close look at the lives and livelihood of the 2.3 million Latinos who live in the Central Valley reveals just how much our well being depends on water.
First, take the Central Valley and the south San Joaquin, in particular. The economies of Fresno, Kern, Madera and Tulare counties and the livelihoods of the Latinos who live there hinge on agriculture. Roughly 35 percent of agricultural workers in California live and work in this four-county area and the majority is Latino. Agriculture production is among the only job-producing industries for this population segment. Without water this industry is doomed.
Next, consider the economic conditions for families in the Central Valley. The average median household income is 25 percent lower than the average median for the state ($35,110). The per capita income is 34 percent lower ($14,986).
Several valley cities and towns are considered among the country’s poorest. Many Latinos live at the bottom rung of the economy with little security or savings, striving only to offer opportunities to another generation.
Finally, bear in mind the region’s employment prospects. Unemployment hovers around 8.6 percent–a full three percentage points above the rest of the state.
When a triggering event occurs that impacts agriculture, unemployment skyrockets. In the three freezes since 1990 and a prolonged drought from 1987-92, the Latino population felt the effects first, endured it longest and suffered most. There are no other industries to compensate for the loss of agricultural jobs. Many Latino families hang on by a thread. Recovery from one event can take years only to be hit by another.
Across California, the Latino economy is intricately linked by our shared culture, traditions, ethnicity and politics. As I pointed out, it’s not just the Latino community in the Central Valley that is impacted by water. Latino communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Eureka, Riverside, San Diego, Sacramento, Oxnard, and on and on are helped by a steady water supply and hurt by water shortages.
When it’s put before California voters on a ballot initiative, I know they will make the right decision in support of the governor’s plan because everyone’s livelihood depends on it. Politicians, who I think know this is the right thing to do, also need to know they cannot stand on the sidelines in the meantime and do nothing.
Earlier this year several Latino leaders came together to form the California Latino Water Coalition, a statewide coalition that supports the development of additional water resources in California. We have voiced our strong support for California Schwarzenegger’s water-management investments.
Standing alongside Schwarzenegger at press conferences at the Capitol, at San Luis Reservoir, in Los Angeles and San Diego, I commended the governor for having the foresight and vision to look ahead. I believe working collaboratively and supporting each other is the only way to secure an adequate flow of water for the entire state.
I’m working alongside comedian and actor Paul Rodriguez and Latino Business Association chairman of the board and CEO Ruben Guerra to head the CLWC. Rodriguez serves as chairman of the CLWC and Guerra is co-chairman the CLWC with me.
Already I have seen many elected officials come together to support the governor’s plan. Now is the time for those elected officials who have been standing on the sidelines to come forward and get engaged.
Our grandchildren and great grandchildren in Southern California, Northern California and the Central Valley need elected officials to prepare a way for them.