As a third-generation farmer and member of Congress for the past 15 years, I work every day to support California agriculture. Our farmers, ranchers and dairymen and women do an incredible job to create an abundance of the healthiest food produced in the world for America’s dinner tables. Ag and water issues are their top priorities. Top among them are creating a steady, skilled workforce and building a reliable water supply. Let’s take a closer look at the progress we’ve made the past year.
In California, it is estimated that nearly 60 percent of our 420,000 farm workers are undocumented. The Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which I helped introduce last year - and which has already passed in the House of Representatives with strong bipartisan support - will help these workers gain legal status provided they meet certain requirements.
It will also reform the current H-2A guest worker program to provide more flexibility for employers, while ensuring critical protections for workers. It also establishes mandatory, nationwide E-verify system for all agricultural employment with guaranteed due process for authorized workers who are incorrectly rejected by the system.
The Farm Workforce Modernization Act is one step toward fixing a broken immigration system and will help build a legal and reliable workforce, for seasonal and permanent farm workers. I am working with my colleagues to build a bipartisan coalition in the U.S. Senate to finalize this legislation so it can be sent to the President. If passed, it would be the first immigration legislation to become law since the Immigration and Reform Control Act of 1986.
This bill is good for farmers, farm workers and American agriculture. Not only is it long overdue, it’s the right thing to do.
Fixing our aging water infrastructure is no less critical nor easy to do. Our canals are decades old and showing their age. We also need to increase our water supply by using all the tools in our water toolbox.
Last month, I introduced The Conveyance Capacity Correction Act, a bill that would provide $400 million dollars to complete repairs to the Delta-Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. Built in 1951 and 1963, both canals are vital but aging pieces of infrastructure responsible for carrying water supplies to residents and farming communities of the central San Joaquin Valley. This bill works in tandem with others I helped introduce this year:
• The Move Water Now Act, which helps fund necessary repairs to the Friant-Kern Canal. This canal - and those mentioned above - have been damaged by dramatic sinking ground levels and their capacity to move water has been greatly diminished. These two bills will form part of a financing package along with state and local resources to repair these vital canals.
• The SAVE Water Resources Act, which addresses the ongoing challenges our valley faces in securing water for our farmers. By implementing competitive financing programs and funding infrastructure projects, this legislation would lay important groundwork for further efforts to expand our valley’s water supply. Fourteen million dollars in funding has already been appropriated to help tackle this issue.
• The Nutria Eradication and Control Act, which reauthorizes funding to eradicate and control the population growth of nutria in California. Nutria are an invasive species that present significant issues for our way of life in the valley. They plague our waterways by destroying wetlands and undermining our canals and levees, in turn cause flooding that can have devastating effects for our farmers.
I have also been actively working with state and federal officials on a deal that would create a reliable water supply for farmers and clean drinking water for our communities.
The success of agriculture operations in California depends of hundreds of thousands of skilled workers, and the availability of a clean and reliable supply of water is the foundation of our valley economy. I will fight to see that all four of these bills are signed into law. We need to invest in our water infrastructure and fix our broken immigration system now! California’s future depends on it
Jim Costa represents California’s 16th District in the United States House of Representatives.