“The changing climate means drought, fire, storms, and floods will be costlier and harsher,” Obama said while surveying a farm in Los Banos, accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.).
The administration announced a series of actions anchored in the departments of Agriculture and Interior intended to combat the longstanding economic effects of the drought in the nation’s breadbasket, including $5 million in additional assistance to California through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that “helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water” and $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection Program assistance to the most drought-impacted areas of California “to protect vulnerable soils.”
The White House also announced that $60 million has been made available through the USDA’s Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in California and 600 summer meal sites would be established in drought stricken areas. The USDA is “making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality.”
Obama to Announce Aid for Drought-Stricken California
FRESNO, Calif. — President Obama arrived in the heart of California’s parched farmland on Friday afternoon to offer tens of millions of dollars in federal assistance to the state, where the lack of rain and snow this winter has left it grappling with the severest drought in its modern history.
Meeting with farmers and ranchers here in Fresno — where electronic signs along highways flash entreatingly to drivers, “Serious drought. Help save water” — Mr. Obama was expected to pledge $183 million from existing federal funds into drought relief programs for California. Though the announcement, made earlier in the day by the White House, won cautious support in this region, Mr. Obama also pressed ahead with the more difficult task of enlisting rural America in his campaign on climate change by linking it to the drought.
The president was accompanied on his tour by the state’s top Democrats, a show of solidarity that underscored the emerging partisan battle over the management of the drought in the nation’s most populous state and the source of half of the country’s fruits and vegetables.
Seated at the center of a horseshoe table at a water district building where he met with community leaders, Mr. Obama spoke of the difficulties of dealing with the drought in the face of California’s intricate water politics, which has traditionally cleaved along regional lines and which has often become mired in epic court battles.
“Water has been seen as a zero sum game: agriculture against urban, north against south,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game.”
“We can’t afford years of litigation and no real action,” he added.
Mr. Obama also spoke of climate change, drawing links to the drought as well as hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Mr. Obama was expected to announce that he intends to ask Congress for $1 billion in new funding for a “climate resiliency” program to help communities invest in research, development and new infrastructure to prepare for climate disasters.
Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency a month ago. But many communities had already imposed water restrictions, and more than a dozen remain at risk of running out of water within a couple of months. For the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project, the main municipal water distribution system, said it is unable to provide water to local agencies, including farmers.
Water scarcity has forced cattle ranchers to sell portions of their herds. Farmers have left hundreds of thousands of acres of agricultural land go fallow.
Democrats and Republicans have been dueling with separate drought bills. Much of that rivalry has focused on the Central Valley — not only because it is California’s breadbasket, but it also represents, in an overwhelmingly Democratic state, a rare battleground between Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau and a Fresno Irrigation District board member, said that Mr. Obama’s announcement was “a great start, though it won’t fix long-term issues.” The Central Valley, he said, needs major upgrades in water infrastructure and needs the federal authorities to release more water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta, north of here.
Farmers: Obama’s drought relief efforts lacking
Posted on February 14, 2014 at 7:03 PM
Updated today at 7:06 PM
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — Farmers in California’s drought-stricken Central Valley said the financial assistance President Barack Obama delivered on his visit Friday does not get to the heart of California’s long-term water problems.
Amid one of the driest years in the state’s recorded history, Obama came to the Fresno area to announce $100 million in livestock-disaster aid, $60 million to support food banks and another $13 million toward things such as conservation and helping rural communities that could soon run out of drinking water.
Obama told reporters in the rural town of Firebaugh, where he met with community leaders, that he wasn’t about to wade into California water politics. Yet the president gently warned California’s leaders to find common ground rather than thinking of water as a “zero-sum game.”
“We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game,” Obama said. “If the politics are structured in such a way where everybody is fighting each other and trying to get as much as they can, my suspicion is that we’re not going to make much progress.”
In his three-hour visit to the Central Valley, Obama also toured a farm in Los Banos to see the drought’s impact firsthand.
Another farmer, Sarah Woolf, a partner with Clark Brothers Farming, said anything will help, but the federal government needs to better manage the state’s water supplies so farmers have enough during future droughts like the current one.
“Throwing money at it is not going to solve the problem long-term,” she said.
The Central Valley produces nearly one-third of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, and Fresno County leads the nation in agriculture. Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, estimated that 25 percent of the county’s irrigated land will go unplanted this year.
The drought has caused Democrats and Republicans in Congress to propose dueling emergency bills. Led by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the House passed one that would free up water for farmers by rolling back environmental protections and stop the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River that once had salmon runs.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer proposed their own version that pours $300 million into drought-relief projects without changing environmental laws. The bill would allow more flexibility to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms in the south and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.