FRESNO, Calif. (8/7/14)--Because farms in California's Central Valley produce one-fourth of the nation's food--according to the U.S. Geological Survey--the impact the enduring drought that has ravaged the region for the past few years is wide-reaching.
|Nearly 60% of California is in a state of exceptional drought--the most severe category. (California Credit Union League Photo)|
But no place has felt the effects of one of the most rapacious droughts on record quite like the people who live and work in the Central Valley.
"Farm workers on dairies, if there's no water for the feed for the dairies, even the livestock suffer. The dairy farms, the almond growers, citrus growers, stone fruit ... it's all interrelated," Jill Bechard, CEO of $110 million-asset United Local CU, told News Now this week.
Bechard has seen first-hand the effects the drought has had on her members, many of whom work and reside in the Central Valley. As the rains have dried up, so have the work hours, the income and the job stability.
"If we don't have the water to serve all of those things, everyone suffers," said Bechard, whose Fresno-based credit union serves many labor and trade unions throughout the state. "The building trades suffer, the farms suffer, the union laborers suffer--everybody does."
Nearly 17,000 jobs and $2.2 billion will be stripped from California's economy by the end of the year, according to a report from the Central Valley-based UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences (CU Weekly Aug. 5).
To help members get through this difficult time, United Local, like many credit unions in California, is doing whatever it can to lend a hand.
"(Our) recovery department works hand and glove with each one of our members, counseling with them, restructuring loans, TDRs (troubled debt restructuring)," Bechard told News Now.
"The department is working day and night to help people on their homes, their automobiles, anything we can to sustain them," she said.
Alan Cortum, CEO of $46 million-asset Valley Oak CU, Three Rivers, told the California Credit Union League's CU Weekly that it's ensuring money is available for members to drill deeper water wells, or new wells entirely, to replenish depleted water supplies.
"It's expensive, up to $12,000 to $15,000 in some cases," Cortum told CU Weekly.
Linda Reese, CEO of Tucoemas FCU, Visalia, with $216 million in assets, said that while the credit union hasn't experienced a large influx of members losing their jobs or needing financial assistance, challenges could be on the horizon.
And if they are, the credit union will be ready.
"We'll have to work individually with our members to find out what their needs are," Reese told CU Weekly. "Each of (our members) has different needs. We're here to help our members. We'll do the best we can for them."