As California goes dry, Latinos suffer disproportionately

To many Californians, the unprecedented water-use restrictions announced this week by Gov. Jerry Brown may no more than a nuisance, since most cities already have strict conservation measures in place.

But for many Latinos in the Golden State, the drought is resulting in lost livelihoods.

On Thursday, a group of elected officials from the state’s Central Valley, where Hispanic farm workers comprise a huge share of the region’s labor force, gathered outside the town of Selma’s city hall to denounce Brown’s continued refusal to send water to their region, and to send food rations instead.

They showed photos of what has happened in the region as a four-year drought has brought an economic crunch: shanty towns and bread lines. These photos were taken earlier this year near the town of Mendota:

California Latino Water Coalition California Latino Water Coalition California Latino Water Coalition IMG_0212

This photo was taken last year, but it’s a scene likely to be repeated again as food supplies allotted in Brown’s new drought aid package are delivered.

california drought bread line

“No water, no work, no life,” Selma Mayor Scott Robertson said at the event in Spanish, according to Fresno-based The Business Journal.

selma drought press conference

“We are already doing our part,” Robertson added. “Sacramento, you need to do yours.”

The issue comes down to Brown’s decision to not instruct the state’s water resources control board to increase the volumes of water sent through the state’s two main pumps, according to Mario Santoyo, director of the California Latino Water Coalition. Environmental groups have pressured Brown to keep flows low in order to avoid flushing out protected fish species, he said.

But this has the effect of leaving thousands of Central Valley farm workers—the vast majority of whom are Hispanic—high and dry, Santoyo said.

During last year’s drought, 400,000 acres of farmland in the Central Valley were fallowed, leading to the loss of more than 17,000 farmworker jobs and an economic impact to the state of over $1.5 billion, according to California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross. As of 2008, two-thirds of California’s agricultural workers were Hispanic.

ag workers by ethnicity

“The way [workers] look at it, they’re basically sending them welfare,” Santoyo told Fusion, referring to the food rations included in Brown’s newest drought aid package. “They don’t want welfare, they want water to get jobs, to get their pride back.”

Brown’s office referred a request Fusion’s request for comment to the State Water Resources Control Board. A representative for the agency, Nancy Vogel, said there simply was not enough water to meet all demands.

“There are water quality standards that have to be met…and there are endangered and threatened native fisheries that need to be protected,” she said. “We need to keep upstream storage in reservoirs for the sake of people and fish in the coming year.”

In a 2014 University of Southern California/Los Angeles Times poll, 25 percent of Latinos said the drought had a “major impact” on their lives, compared with just 13 percent of people from other racial groups.

Santoyo said that the multi-year drought had already caused surges in unemployment for the region, and that the full effect of Brown’s decisions hasn’t even been felt.

“We haven’t even hit summer — that’s when [water] demand really hits,” he said. “That’s when the proof is going to hit, that’s what everybody’s fearing, if decisions aren’t improved.”