Interior Secretary Hears Water Plea

By: Liz Gonzalez and Caryn Kochergen

The Valley's water crisis continues to garner national attention, as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar paid Fresno a visit.

Nearly 900 people crowded into the Satellite Student Union on the university campus, to tell Secretary Salazar about the adversities the water shortages have created for them... and what they'd like to see the government do to help.

"It is by choice that I am here today. It is not because I was forced to come. I came to see how we can find a way to move forward together," Salazar, who donned a cowboy hat, told the crowd.{} "I care about the Valley, the farmers and the farmworkers."

Salazar said his trip was aimed at listening to the needs of Valley farmers, announce some actions, and see where things go from there.

He told the crowd environmental restrictions protecting the delta smelt are set to expire Wednesday, July first... and the pumps will go back on.

He added a study, looking at the so-called "Two-Gates" project, will be put on the fast track.

The project would place gates at the two tributaries where the water flows from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, protecting fish from the pumps, while still allowing water to flow.

Salazar later added that the solution of convening a so-called "God Squad" may not be the way to go.

The 'Squad' would consist of leaders who have the power to bypass environmental regulations, and turn on water pumps at the delta immediately.

"This would be to admit failure, it would defeat eco-system restoration efforts," Salazar said. "It has been rarely invoked, and usually leads to litigation."

Area lawmakers said Sunday they are worried politics could block progress.

"The government you represent values fish above these families," said Congressman George Radanovich. "This is area will become a dustbowl."

"We don't need more amendments to block pumps from coming on," argued Congressman Devin Nunes, who is also a Visalia-area farmer.

But Secretary Salazar assured the crowd addressing the Valley's drought will be a bi-partisan effort.

Area farmers said they were optimistic.

"I think it's awesome he's here," said Cory Carvalho, a fourth-generation farmer who grows crops in the{} Cantua Creek area.

"But I think he needs to bring the President along next time."

Farmworkers, like Jose Herrera, are worried, too.

He says the dream of many immigrants, to head to 'El Norte' no longer rings true.

"We are losing the little we do have. People are losing their homes and their livelihoods," he said, while listening to Salazar's speech from outside, gripping a sign that read 'No Water=No Life'.

"No one wants to come here and work anymore," Herrera said.

Representatives from the counties bordering the delta area made the trek to Fresno, too.

They said they are worried they are being left out of the decision-making process, and need the water as much as Central Valley farmers.

"This is not about people versus fish. It's about people versus people," one woman said. Another added, "We are sympathetic to these farmers. But you can't help this region, by sacrificing another."