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Representatives focused on water
Water is center stage at Government Night
government night
Elected officials convened for their fourth annual Government Night at California State University, Stanislaus Thursday. Left to right are Rep. Jeff Denham, state Senator Tom Berryhill, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and Turlock mayor Gary Soiseth. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR/The Courier

It is not often that local, state, and federal legislators have the opportunity to convene and discuss topics with constituents, but that is precisely what took place in Turlock on Thursday during the fourth annual Government Night.

Officiated by Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Vito Chiesa of Hughson, the evening allowed Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth, state Senator Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte, Congressman Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, to gather at California State University, Stanislaus campus to discuss regional issues. Each legislator presented prepared comments, followed by a question and answer sessions with constituents.

While the legislators did touch on a number of topics, the prevailing interest of the evening was water, which is the number one topic in the state, said Berryhill.

"It's the only thing that is scaring me about our economy, maybe being able to stall the economy and never recover," remarked Chiesa.

The severity of the drought, highlighted by Gov. Jerry Brown's recent executive order that mandates citywide conservation efforts, has raised concern amongst citizens. However, Olsen said the issue predates the recent "band-aid" conservation measures.

"For anyone to suggest that we could conserve our way out of this problem is preposterous," said Olsen.

She partially credits the severity of the drought to past leaders who "refused to prepare for today's situation" which includes a lack of water storage options.

Soiseth pointed out that Turlock receives 100 percent of its water supply from the ground, so the city is currently exploring options to develop contracts with local agencies to receive river water and to augment supply for a long-term solution.

During the question and answer session a CSUS student said that she felt that the water conservation measures were penalizing the general population when the agriculture industry is most responsible as the biggest water user and waster. Berryhill responded that "Agriculture has gotten an absolute bad rap and we have done more to conserve than any other industry."

"Even though the agriculture industry has grown, we are doing much more with much less," he added, highlighting the drip irrigation system farmers use to water their crops which is more efficient than flood irrigation. However, although these measures are helpful, abstaining from flood irrigation can significantly impact ground water recharge levels, he said.

Olsen pointed out that the drought affects "urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, businesses and ag, high-tech, low-tech, it's a statewide problem that demands statewide solutions."

Berryhill put it most succinctly by saying "We're all in this together."