Dusty fields in Fresno County

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A day after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was scolded in Fresno for not doing enough about this summer’s farm-water shortages, he went to Mendota to issue yet another drought-related disaster declaration.

This one doesn’t do much. It activates the California Disaster Assistance Act to help local government and nonprofits with food banks. It also waives the one-week waiting period to apply for jobless benefits.

But it gave the governor a chance to tramp around unplanted fields in the Central Valley, where drought and environmental restrictions have amped up the perennial ‘fish vs. farmers’ rhetoric.

A statewide drought, coupled with pumping limits aimed at protecting crashing fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, has drastically cut deliveries of federal irrigation water to farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley this summer.


Mendota has been a hotbed of protests, blaming its 39% unemployment rate on environmental laws.

But like many small valley farm towns, Mendota’s jobs picture is never good -- even when there is plenty of water. In 2006 -- before the most recent delta pumping restrictions were imposed and when farms in the huge Westlands Water District next to Mendota got their full federal irrigation deliveries -- Mendota’s unemployment rate was still 23%, the highest in Fresno County.

And as the Environmental Defense Fund recently pointed out, Westlands has largely made up for this year’s delivery reductions by pumping groundwater, buying supplies from other districts and using water banked from previous years. With those sources, Westlands will have 86% of its normal supplies, according to state estimates.

Maybe Schwarzenegger should have gone to Imperial County, which has a higher overall jobless rate than Fresno County. But Imperial gets its water from the Colorado River. It would be tough to blame job woes there on delta protections.

--Bettina Boxall