No Water, No Jobs

By Leticia Miranda Jul 08, 2009

Although I’m a little reluctant to admit it sometimes, I’m from Fresno, CA. But when my girlfriend and I got lost driving back to our Oakland homes from Los Angeles this last weekend, my loyalty to the Central Valley came rushing in. Nearly every orchard and field we saw on our detour had one of these signs sticking out of its dry, dead land. Apparently, Congress has almost entirely diminished water irrigation from lakes up north into the state’s aqua-duct system to protect the preservation of the smelt, a small three-inch non-commercial minnow. This, and a three-year drought, have dried up roughly 450,000 acres statewide and have left an estimated 35,000 people without jobs in an already bad economy. But as the smelt frolic in their north lake homes, New America Media reports that small farm towns like Huron, CA (the producer of 95 percent of processing tomatoes in the US) are seeing their unemployment rate reach 35 percent, three times as much as the state unemployment rate forcing many residents (who are mostly Latino) to sublease whatever space they have in their homes to make rent, leaving up to 35 people squeezed into a three-bedroom house. I’m not one who believes in prioritizing issues on some kind of hierarchy. But while I’m sure the smelt is important to California’s ecological system, jobs to make money to buy food is a significant priority to the thousands of farmworkers who are mostly non-English speakers, often undocumented and rely on farmworking for survival because that’s what they’ve been doing most of their lives. Saving the smelt just doesn’t trump that.