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Huron, California May not Exist in a Year

The unemployment rate in Huron in recent months is “off the charts.”

As you drive down Highway 198 toward the tiny Central Valley city of Huron, yellow-and-black signs poke out from parched fields with a message that harkens back to the days of the Great Depression: “Congress Created Dustbowls.” congress

The signs, believed to be the handiwork of the Central Valley’s agricultural industry, reflect a collective cry of desperation from a community of about 7,300 Mexican immigrants, who have made this Fresno County town their home, with hopes of realizing the American dream.

That dream, many of them are finding out, is increasingly getting more and more elusive.

It certainly is for Maria Ramos, 57, a widow and mother of three, who was laid off a few months back after working for 25 years, sometimes as a farm hand and sometimes on the assembly lines of an onion packaging plant. At the time she was let go, she was making the minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. She’s not sure she’ll find another job any time soon, given the current water crisis Huron and many other Central Valley communities are experiencing.

“There are a lot of people in my situation,” Ramos said in Spanish through an interpreter, adding: “We don’t know where to go; there are just no jobs.”

“No water, no jobs,” is the dismal mantra you hear everywhere around Huron these days, as a combination of a long-standing drought and a federally enforced diminished supply of water from nearby lakes has turned this once bustling city half way between the giant metropolises of San Francisco and Los Angeles into a land of the hungry.

Huron’s economy has for years been powered by agriculture. Acres and acres of tomatoes, melons, onions, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, cotton and garlic were once the pride of this rural community. In fact, 95 percent of the processing tomatoes in the United States were grown in Huron.

But the economy is now shredded by a three-year drought, and, to a greater extent, by a round of safeguards for threatened fish imposed late last year by the feds that has diminished the transfer of water from lakes up north through the delta and into the state’s system of aqua-ducts.

Those restrictions were to prevent a little fish called the smelt, which has no commercial value, from being sucked into the pumps.
Farmer in Huron
Additional federal regulations were imposed last month to protect such migrating fish as the Chinook salmon so the water levels would be sufficient for them to migrate.

Many farming communities were told they would get only 10 percent of their allocation this year. Huron faces zero allocation, according to Police Chief Frank Steenport.

The feds’ action has fallowed farms in “one of the richest agricultural regions in the world,” said Carol Whiteside, president emeritus of the Great Valley Center, a non-profit that was set up to promote the economic, environmental and social wellbeing of the Central Valley.

It has left scores of farm hands like Ramos jobless. An estimated 60,000 to 80,000 agriculture-related jobs will be lost in the Central Valley this year, said Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Herndon, whose district includes all of King’s County, and portions of Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties.

Governor Schwarzenegger decried the feds’ action of putting fish “above the needs of millions of Californians.” And on June 28, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, noting that “the human suffering here in California is all too real,” said at a town hall meeting in Fresno that he wants to direct $160 million in Recovery Act funds to ease the toll of the state’s water shortage on Central Valley farmers.

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