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Farm groups irked after canal bill pulled

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The bill would have provided more than $300 million in repairs to key canals in the San Joaquin Valley.

A California state bill that would have funded repairs to several key San Joaquin Valley canals has been pulled by its author, sparking criticism from farm groups.

State Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Sanger, said she decided to hold SB 559 after the Assembly Appropriations Committee removed all funding provisions. 

"The cries for help from communities that are running out of water and from struggling farmers wasn’t enough to stop forced Assembly amendments to a sound solution," she said in a statement. "It is unfortunate, but I will not add further pain to struggling farmworkers and communities. For this reason—I am withholding SB 559 for a vote this session.

"I’m disappointed, but will keep pushing to secure adequate funding for water infrastructure, and I hope to further inform my colleagues on the consequences of drought—namely food insecurity and water shortages as I chair hearings on the Select Committee on Human Security," she said.

Senate Bill 559 would have paid for more than $300 million in repairs on the critical Friant-Kern Canal, California Aqueduct and the Delta-Mendota Canal, notes the California Farm Bureau Federation. The projects were included in water system upgrades being proposed after two consecutive years of severe drought—with a third dry year likely, the CFBF explains.

Decision was 'ideological'

After the bill's demise, a coalition of leading California fresh produce organizations issued harsh statements.

“With nearly 90 percent of the state in extreme or exceptional drought, including virtually all the 3.25 million acres of farmland dependent on irrigation from the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, the move to strip SB 559 of its funding demonstrates the clear intent of the Assembly to drive food production out of California,” said California Fresh Fruit Association President Ian LeMay. “In light of the staggering state budget surplus, the decision to defund the repair of our critical conveyance systems is not financial, but ideological, and will harm thousands of multi-generational family farms and countless disadvantaged communities in the San Joaquin Valley.”

“Water supply reliability is central to the production of food in California, and vital to the rural communities and statewide economy that is supported by the agriculture industry,” said California Citrus Mutual President and CEO Casey Creamer. “SB 559 would have funded long overdue repairs to canals and other conveyance infrastructure that have been damaged by subsidence. California cannot afford to waste even a single drop of its limited water resources in the face of changing hydrological conditions and recurring drought. In addition to the need to build more above and below ground storage, our state must also invest in fixing our broken water delivery systems.”

“Farms that cannot irrigate crops to grow food will inevitably reduce operations or cease farming altogether. When enough of them do, farmworkers lose the most,” said Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia. “In once again eviscerating Senator Hurtado’s legislation to repair critical water infrastructure, the Assembly’s leaders leave no uncertainty as to the future they want for the farms, farmers, farmworkers and communities of the San Joaquin Valley. They will do whatever it takes to keep taxpayer money flowing to a high-speed rail project we can do without and do whatever it takes to deny funds to help repair water infrastructure we cannot do without. We are enormously grateful to Senator Hurtado for her tenacity and to those who stood with her even as their leaders gave them, and all of us, the middle finger.”

TAGS: Water
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