For Release: December 12, 1997
UFW sues Pajaro district for refusing to release public records on growers’ water use
Citing concern over salt water intrusion threatening the jobs of strawberry workers and other farm laborers, attorneys for the United Farm Workers on Friday asked a Santa Cruz Superior Court judge to order the Pajaro Valley Water Management District to make public the names of all persons who were late in submitting water use reports and the amount of water consumed by each water user in 1995 and ’96.
In a lawsuit filed under the state Public Records Act, the UFW seeks to identify growers who extract water from the Pajaro Basin. In July and November, the water district refused union requests for the information, claiming the data does not have to be made public.
"Overdraft of the Pajaro Basin and resulting seawater intrusion imperils the long-term job security of strawberry and other farm workers in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties," states UFW President Arturo Rodriguez. "Farm workers and the entire community have a right to know who is using their water. It is scandalous that a public agency charged with managing one of the most severely overdrafted basins in California refuses to make public this basic information. Such stonewalling is exactly what the people of California sought to remedy with the Public Records Act."
As early as 1947, the state Department of Water Resources first recognized seawater intrusion caused by water overdraft was contaminating the Pajaro Basin. The rate of seawater intrusion has more than doubled over the last 30 years, forcing wells to be closed down along the coast and threatening to affect large-scale agricultural production.
"More than 90% of area farms now rely on groundwater for irrigation," Rodriguez says. "The future of farming–and farm worker jobs–depends on careful management of water resources. That’s why farm workers and the UFW have a unique interest in ensuring sound water management." Access to water district records on current water use "is the first step towards new policies that preserve our water resources."
Two requests from the UFW for the water data under the Public Records Act were rejected in letters from water district attorneys on July 9 and Nov. 31, 1997. District officials claim the UFW-requested records are excluded from disclosure, citing a section of the law exempting information concerning "geological and geophysical data, plant production data, and similar information relating to utility systems development, or market or crop reports, which are obtained in confidence from any person" (Government Code § 6254(e)).
The union dismisses this argument in its lawsuit, noting that "the [requested] water use information is not ‘similar’ in kind to the data described" in the subsection detailing exemptions. The data also does not relate to "utility systems development," "market or crop reports," and it was not "obtained in confidence from any person."
"It is beyond debate that water resource management is a matter of great public concern both in the Pajaro Valley and the entire state," the union’s lawsuit contends. Copies of the UFW’s suit filed on Friday are available upon request by calling Manny Pastreich or Jennifer Duncan at (408) 761-7172.
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