Cautionary Tales From Rod Brueske- Our Stop in Merced

In Longmont Colorado, my family experienced what it was like to be part of the national fracking expansion—being hydrocarbon poisoned several times by the industry, and being shown a complete lack of concern by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. I realized that the Californian central valley is next in the crosshairs of the shale boom, which could compromise their agricultural production and change families’ lives here.

On Saturday, I witnessed history being made in Sacramento at Don’t Frack California, where thousands stood together at the state capitol to demand that Governor Brown ban fracking. Alongside my fellow Coloradoan, Shane Davis, and Dryden New York resident, Deborah Cipolla-Dennis, we headed to Merced for the second stop of the Cautionary Tales from Frack Communities California tour.

Before the official tour stop, we met with activists from Mercedians Against Fracking and attended a board meeting for the Merced Irrigation District (MID), where we learned that because of California’s drought, local farmers are now receiving acre-inches of water, where in the past they received acre-feet of water. The MID board was clear that Merced can’t afford to waste any water—and the situation is so dire that they passed a measure to impose new criminal penalties on those who steal water.

After the MID meeting, we connected with more local activists who brought us to a luncheon for California Women for Agriculture, and again the topic was water. I sat next to State Congressman Jim Costa, who said in his prepared remarks that “without water flow, we cannot grow.” The message is pretty clear: Merced doesn’t have a drop of water to waste.

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 From what I’ve seen here in the California central valley, the threat of fracking and the effects of this heavy industry are still new to most residents of Merced. But, a growing number of passionate residents are showing concern and organizing. On the Cautionary Tales panel I shared that what happened to me has happened to thousands of people in Colorado, and tens of thousands of people around the United States. It was disappointing to see that none of the local elected officials showed up to gather information. It would also be inspiring to see more young people from UC Merced show up to see how this would affect their future.  In Colorado, it took us a long time to educate our communities and to get elected officials to pay attention, but when we took responsibility for ourselves, through education, public awareness and action, we’ve begun prevailing over the industry.

My take away is that being in this agricultural area I really feel good about having the opportunity to plant a seed in this community that can grow into a movement so that the people of Merced can get what they really deserve—a frack free community.

By Rod Brueske