By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
The recent rains in Northern California have brought some serious concerns in the form of floods, mudslides, and forced evacuations but they remain a welcomed sight to many Californians. Drought has been a part of California’s vocabulary for decades, but these past five years the state has reached unprecedented stages. And, despite the recent rains and snowfall in the mountains California has managed to transition from the “exceptional drought” status into just “drought”; this nomenclature is dependent upon which part of the state is being referenced. According to the February 7th article in News Deeply, the surface water drought in California is over for 2017. Here are the most recent numbers:
Although, there is conflicting information about what exactly this means, certain information remains constant. California’s economic stability is tied to the levels of precipitation and water reserves. Prior to being hit with severe weather dumping much needed water on the parched state, Governor Brown had declared an emergency drought. Wells had dried, farms were devastated, water restrictions were put in place and thousands of farm workers fell victim to forced layoffs due to further reductions in water allocations.
In disaster situations, such as drought federal and state agencies have assistance programs intended to minimize the effects. However, farm workers suffer greatly even though they are an invaluable part of our communities. When you are a part of the lowest paid labor force in America, you don’t have a savings to fall back on; a day not spent in the fields is a day without pay. And, despite the programs that are available to farm workers affected by the drought, much like any government programs there is an issue of eligibility. Undocumented farm workers do not qualify for such programs or unemployment, which puts an already vulnerable population in more precarious situations accepting whatever work that is available. California is a major producer in the fruit, vegetable, and nut sectors for the country. Without water these crops shrivel and die, without crops farm workers have no work. What this means for farm worker families and communities is increased poverty, hunger, and lack of access to potable water.
At this point in the year it is a wait and see situation. Although, this year is already on record as the wettest drought California has seen in years, it is still too early to tell just what will happen. What we do know for sure is this isn’t the first time the state has experienced a drought and it won’t be the last. However, the question remains will the farm worker communities be able to survive another year of uncertainty.