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Message from the CEO – August 2014 

Cecil Russell

Chamber CEO,
Cecil Russell

This issue of Progress brings us to the last half of summer, and as our agriculture business focuses on crops production and harvest we have deep concerns about everything surrounding water. Our water issues will continue to command our utmost attention as it is the lifeblood of not only our agriculture community, but also all of the businesses and citizens of our region. I recently had the opportunity to attend a scoping meeting of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERS) on the subject of the relicensing of La Grange Dam. I was the only person representing business with the exception of one person each from Modesto Irrigation District and Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. The meeting was packed with environmental activists; their only concern was protecting salmon and possibly other fish. My original intention was to listen and learn about the process, however after twenty plus speakers focused entirely on protecting fish, with no mention of the importance of water for our agriculture economy and a sustainable source of water for our business and our general population, I spoke about the importance of water and its effect on our economic vitality.

The next evening I attended a town hall meeting that Assembly Members Kristin Olsen and Adam Gray chaired at the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau. The subject of this meeting was to raise the level of concern and to share information about the curtailment actions and regulations that are being considered by the State Water Resources Control Board. To suggest curtailment of water rights is not only short-sighted, but an egregious overreach that will do little more than pit one region of California against the other. We, ask that, instead, we focus on increasing the state’s water supply through solutions that can benefit all Californians.

The agriculture industry is the lifeblood of our region. The current drought has already forced farmers to cut back operations and threatens to put up to 400,000 acres out of commission this year alone. The effect of such a loss will be evident in the increased food prices in California.

We, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, other Chamber’s of Commerce in the Central Valley and other community organizations need to be in lock step with the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, MID, and TID to protect our water rights. We thank Assembly Members Kristen Olsen and Adam Gray and State Senator Anthony Cannella for the support on this important issue.

I have recently read The Greening of Paradise Valley, by Dwight H Barney. This book chronicles the first one hundred years of the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) from 1887 to1987. There is valuable historical information that begins with the Spanish land grants of the early 1800’s. The area from San Joaquin County in the north to Merced County in the south is what the early settlers identified as Paradise Valley. The first ranchers in the area raised cattle. They were followed by farmers who grew wheat, which propelled California to be the leading wheat producing state in the nation. As crops of wheat and other farming became profitable, it became clear that action was necessary to take control of the area’s natural supply of water and to protect it from drought and floods. The original architects of Modesto Irrigation District went through many trials and tribulations before MID became a reality. Shortly after MID and Turlock Irrigation District were formed they decided to build La Grange Dam and the power project soon followed. The larger issue was determining and dividing the rights to the water and more specifically senior water rights. These water rights issues went through many legal battles before they were settled.

These water rights issues still plague us today, with the State Water Resources Control Board constantly wrangling to curtail, restrict or determine flows at the expense of water rights for MID and TID. Any changes could adversely affect our agricultural economy and many other industries. I suggest that all businesses learn as much as possible about MID and TID, their history, water rights, and power supply, not only as it relates to agriculture, but as it impacts all of our businesses and local quality of life. Reading The Greening of Paradise Valley is a good place to start along with attending MID and TID board meetings and any of the FERS and State Water Resources Control Board meetings. The founding fathers of our city were very wise to choose “Water, Wealth, Contentment, Health” for our city slogan. Without water we would not have wealth, contentment or a healthy community.

I have written in past editions of Progress how important it is for us to work together diversifying and creating jobs to our area to improve our economy. This will continue to be a challenge, while at the same time, and just as important is what I call “The Coming Water Wars”. The Modesto Chamber will be forming a water committee dedicated to learning more on water issues. We will reach out to a broad base to learn more so we can be better informed, as we continue to advocate protecting our water rights for our community. This will include MID, TID, City and County agencies, the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, other Chambers of Commerce and other Irrigation districts. Now is the time for collaboration.

This issue of Progress is focused on education. The Modesto Chamber of Commerce will host our Annual State of Education and Business Forum on August 27th at the Martin Petersen Center. The event will begin at 7:00am with a light breakfast, followed at 7:30am with presentations on Common Core standards and an update on Stanislaus County Office of Education’s Destination Graduation. This promises to be a very informative event with presentations from Superintendent Tom Changnon, and Assistant Superintendents Susan Rich and Rick Bartkowski. There will also be presentations from teachers and students on the benefits of Common Core.

Also in this issue are articles recognizing the Mayor’s Top Teens and Boys and Girls Clubs of Stanislaus County and the great work that both organizations are doing to help educate and build character in our youth. We are blessed with many volunteers that work with our youth every day throughout our community. We are committed to the principle that Education is fundamental to economic development. Please join us on August 27th where visions of the future of education will be shared.

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