California Drought Gains National Attention

By Kate Campbell
California Farm Bureau

The serious consequences to food production from the ongoing California drought rose to national prominence recently, as President Obama toured drought-stressed areas of the San Joaquin Valley, U.S. senators introduced a bill to address the situation in the wake of earlier House legislation and leaders around California discussed the significant effects of potentially historic water shortages.

During his visit, President Obama pledged to expedite federal help for parched farms and communities.

The president toured a Firebaugh area farm and met with agricultural leaders, including California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger, as well as community leaders and water agency officials.

Large Contingent Visits State

Congressional representatives, Gov. Jerry Brown and state water agency officials also joined the president to discuss impacts of one of the worst droughts to strike the state in nearly a century.

Obama visited Joe and Maria Gloria Del Bosque’s farm southwest of Firebaugh for a ground-level perspective on hardships resulting from the dire lack of water.

“Water has been seen as a zero-sum game – agriculture against urban, north against south,” Obama told meeting participants and the media. “We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game.”

He said because California produces so much of the nation’s food supply, there’s a huge national concern related to the state’s drought. He talked about global warming and the need to plan now to use dwindling resources.

“We can’t afford years of litigation and no action, because this is going to be a very challenging situation for some time to come,” Obama said.

Wenger thanked the president for making the trip to California.

“We appreciate the national attention the president brought with his visit, as well as the recent visit by House Speaker Boehner,” Wenger said.

“I’m encouraged by the president’s pledge to fast-track disaster assistance and increase regulatory relief, but more needs to be done to get California through this crisis and prepared for the future.”

Federal disaster assistance programs under the recently approved 2014 Farm Bill will provide nearly $100 million for California livestock producers suffering losses due to lack of forage and water for their animals. Assistance was suspended for two years after the previous Farm Bill had expired.

“Normally and traditionally, it takes somewhere between six and eight months to restructure and recharge programs that have been dormant,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “The president is saying we need to get this done by April 15 so that producers are in a position to make application for disaster payments on or before then.”

Historic Drought

In an interview with Ag Alert that coincided with the president’s visit, Vilsack said the administration understands “this is a historic drought and it’s having a very substantial impact on their (food) production processes.”

In addition, the administration said $15 million in conservation assistance targeted to the more extreme drought areas and $5 million in emergency watershed protections are being made available to California farmers and ranchers.

After the House of Representatives passed a bill by Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford), addressing critical water issues made more acute by the drought, California’s U.S. senators introduced a bill last week to authorize $300 million in further emergency federal assistance. The bill would ensure quicker environmental reviews for water projects and water transfers.

Wenger said Farm Bureau hopes the House and Senate “can work together to craft a bipartisan solution that will both help with immediate water challenges and address the long-term need for additional water storage.”

Last month, water leaders from throughout the state attended a briefing in Sacramento. Several speakers emphasized that areas of the state are facing “catastrophic” water shortages.

Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at kcampbell@cfbf.com.

 

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