Demonstrators march for water in California's San Joaquin area

More than 4,000 people braved blowing dust to march Tuesday from Mendota to Firebaugh, launching a four-day campaign to focus attention on the Valley's crippling water shortage.

The "March for Water" drew a diverse group of demonstrators, including farmers, farmworkers, business owners, politicians and actor/comedian Paul Rodriguez, chairman of the California Latino Water Coalition, one of the event's organizers.

"What we have not had in the past is unity -- but look at us, we share the same issues," Rodriguez said. "There is no reason this coalition should not have existed a long time ago."

Many of the marchers wore blue t-shirts that read: "No water, no work, no life."

They walked on dusty roads that ran along Highway 33 on their eight-mile journey between the two farm towns. A parade of more than 50 farm vehicles and diesel trucks followed.

"Yes, it's cold and windy, but we have to let people hear us," said Maria Rodriguez, her faced wrapped in a scarf.

Rodriguez and her husband, Sixto Rodriguez, have been farmworkers for more than 30 years.

"It has been our life, but now it feels like it is ending because the work is less and less," said Sixto Rodriguez of Mendota.

Organizers called the event historic and likened it to the the famed marches led by farm-labor leader Cesar Chavez, who battled the agriculture industry and government for better working conditions in the fields.

But this new battle is about striking a balance between the water needs of the environment and agriculture, the San Joaquin Valley's economic engine and a multibillion-dollar industry.

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