Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has launched a two-pronged emergency plan to help the most drought stricken of Californiaâs grower-shippers and their employees.
During a surprise visit to the farming community of Mendota June 19, the governor signed a letter to President Barack Obama requesting that western Fresno County be declared a federal disaster area and that assistance be provided the area.
âThereâs such an emergency in the San Joaquin Valley when it comes to water and unemployment that it needs immediate attention,â Schwarzenegger said, according to media reports.
In February, the governor declared a state of emergency due to the drought conditions.
During the Mendota visit, Schwarzenegger also issued an executive order for the state to provide to residents of the area up to $4 million monthly for emergency food assistance and additional unemployment benefits.
California is in the third year of a drought. As a result, about 500,000 acres of San Joaquin Valley farmland are fallow this year, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Contributing to the lack of irrigation water are court-ordered reductions in the pumping of water from state and federal water projects.
The court-ordered restrictions on pumping of Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta water reduced growerâs allotments of federal water this year to 10% of their allocations. Unemployment has skyrocketed. In the Mendota area, the jobless rate in May reached 41%, according to the state Employment Development Department. The statewide unemployment rate was 11.5%, a record.
Schwarzenegger met with local officials, growers and workers after touring dusty Mendota-area fields that had until recently been productive farmland.
âI will fight and I will fight and I will fight and do everything that I can to create the immediate water that is needed and an infrastructure that can serve 50 million people,â he said.
Californiaâs infrastructure for irrigation water and domestic water use was designed for 18 million people, he said, less than half of the stateâs current population of 38 million.