State’s water grab hurts more than just farmers

by Fernando Aguilera, originally posted on December 8, 2016


The state of California’s proposed Bay Delta water plan is being portrayed as a water fight between supposedly wealthy farmers and fish.

When there is so much more at stake to us all, I have to ask why?

I suspect this is a deliberate tactic by those involved in professional politics and government. It is probably much easier to say that only a handful of farmers are being harmed by a massive water diversion than to acknowledge that an entire community – including some of the most disadvantaged youths and adults in the state – are going to be harmed.

The Merced Soccer Academy has about 3,800 young people ages 3 to 18 involved. In addition, there are thousands of other family members who support the program. Our players come from diverse families with parents who are firefighters, teachers and lawyers. But the highest percent of parents work in the fields and food-processing factories.

In many cases, the common denominator isn’t soccer – it’s the fact that their neighborhoods are overrun with gangs, drugs and crime. The fact is, all of our youths are at a disadvantage.

When you are raised in a community with so much poverty, with gangs and with drugs – and a shortage of well-paying jobs – the allure of drugs, gangs and crime becomes more alluring.

Merced Soccer Academy has worked to provide an alternative for all youths. We have given them a voice, confidence, positive role models and a chance to travel to other communities outside Merced. We have opened, and now manage, programs at the Stephen Leonard Youth/Parent Center, giving our players and other youths from the community a safe place to go even when they’re not playing.

Absolutely none of this has come easy, especially with no funding sources. We have frequently heard voices telling us, “No you can’t.”

The latest voice saying those words is coming from our own state government. The governor-appointed members of the state water board, under the guise of more water for the environment, plan to take water now benefiting our local farms and providing drinking water for our communities and recreation for the entire community and send it to farmers in other communities far away.

So now, in addition to every other negative message our youths receive, the state water board is telling them: “You are not good enough to have good drinking water or good jobs. Fish need that water more than you.”

Do you know how many fish? According to the water board’s own study, the goal is to increase the Merced River’s salmon population by 1,100 fish. So, 1,100 fish outweigh the drinking water quality of our entire community.

At the state water board’s hearing, I asked why? Please tell me why so I can explain this to my community. I am still waiting for an answer.

I suspect we already have an answer. In the eyes of Sacramento, we don’t count. They just won’t say it.

Instead, they will say farmers don’t count as much as fish, at least not farmers in Merced County. Nor do the residents of Merced County count.

On Dec. 19, when state water board officials visit our community, we have the opportunity to show them that we do count.

I urge you to come out and support our community. It is extremely important that you come forward to show that our community is just as important and we are not being fooled into a fish vs. farmer debate. This is your community, our community, and your presence will assist in determining the future of our community.

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