Western Growers officials on July 17 warned of a pending crisis in California agriculture because of a lack of action to bring about new water storage and conveyance projects to meet the rapidly growing needs of the state’s burgeoning population and major industries.

The call for action coincides with a major push by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to call attention to the need for new state water policies during a weeklong series of appearances throughout California.

“The water infrastructure of California is failing and is inadequate to meet the needs of the state’s growing population,” said Stephen Patricio, president of Westside Produce in Firebaugh, Calif., and Western Growers’ board chair.

“The Governor is promoting the most aggressive water infrastructure improvement and development project California has seen in decades. The agricultural industry supports his effort to meet the water demands for farms and all Californians and Western Growers has endorsed his strategic growth plan.”

The water crisis in California has been steadily worsening with the growth of urban needs and the onset of drought conditions. Water reclamation projects, new conservation measures, and bond measures to replenish water aquifers are just some of the measures that have been initiated or intensified to alleviate the crisis.

New surface water storage facilities, however, have not been approved, leaving a major gap in the list of proposed remedies.

“For the last 30 years California’s farmers have led the way to more efficient water usage and conservation,” Patricio said. “Farmers today use less water than they used in the 1960s while producing higher yields of high value crops with great nutritional value. The water saved by agriculture has helped fuel California's population growth, but the time has come to prepare for the needs of future generations.”

Western Growers applauds the Schwarzenegger administration for taking a leadership role on this issue and agrees that additional surface water storage and conveyance must be part of a comprehensive solution.

“Surface water storage will cool the environment, supply water for all Californians, generate hydroelectricity; the most environmentally friendly and reliable source of power, and create public recreational facilities for future generations,” Patricio said. “The farmers of California understand this win-win solution, Governor Schwarzenegger understands this win-win Solution.”

Members of Western Growers grow, pack, and ship about 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables grown in California, and 75 percent of the same commodities in Arizona. The trade association handles about half of the nation’s fresh produce.