published on October 12, 2016 - 7:31 AM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A new report commissioned by the Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the nation, concludes that water supply restrictions are reducing farm production and negatively impacting communities dependent on agriculture.

“Unfortunately, government water policies are responsible for decline in farming and risks to the communities in the San Joaquin region,” said Johnny Amaral, deputy general manager for Westlands. “The Central Valley Project is broken, the management of state water resources is jeopardizing the region, and without a solution there is little hope of a turnaround that will improve conditions for farming in 2017.”

The report notes that for the last decade, San Joaquin Valley farmers have received historically low water allocations from the federal government, forcing them to take land out of production and fallow crops, change the mix of crops grown and depend more on groundwater to maintain their farms. These actions, which the report calls “completely avoidable,” have taken a heavy toll on the surrounding community and economy.

According to the report, Westlands Water District is responsible for massive economic contributions, generating $3.6 billion in economic activity and nearly 29,000 jobs throughout the economy.

“The role of agriculture in this region of California goes well beyond the numbers,” said the author of the report, Michael Shires, Ph.D. of Pepperdine University.

“The report confirms two major conclusions about farming in the region,” Shires said. “First, the area produces a significant amount of agricultural products that will be difficult to replace if restrictive water policies continue to cut production. Second, the report shows that the region is fundamentally an agricultural economy, where jobs and businesses are directly and indirectly related to food production. Therefore, government policies that harm agriculture have a profound impact on the communities.”

Implications have included 5,200 job losses — or 18 percent employment loss —and nearly $650 million of lost economic output in Westlands Water District alone, both a direct result of water supply restrictions being ignored and solutions not addressed, according to Shires.

“Given the unique makeup of the region, primarily suitable for agriculture, where do those 5,200 individuals go to seek new employment?” added Shires. “The options are scarce, forcing them to rely on government assistance, furthering long-term economic and unemployment issues for the region.”

The report also finds that the region is poorer than statewide averages and made up of primarily minorities, more than 50 percent of whom are Hispanic. It is expected that this region will see more population growth over the next 40 years than any region in the state, increasing the Hispanic population to more than 60 percent. To sustain the quality of life and a healthy economy, there must be consistency in job growth, the opposite of what the region is experiencing now as a result of strangled water policy, Shires concluded.

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