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President Barack Obama waves as he leaves Fresno Friday night. Collegian / Katie Eleneke

Obama offers drought assistance in first trip to Central Valley

President Barack Obama waves as he leaves Fresno Friday night.  Collegian /  Katie Eleneke

President Barack Obama waves as he leaves Fresno on Air Force One on Friday evening after making his first official visit to the Central Valley.  Photo by  Katie Eleneke / The Collegian

President Barack Obama wrapped up his visit to the Fresno area Friday evening after meeting with farmers and local leaders to address California’s historic drought.

“Today, we’re here to talk about the resource that’s keeping more and more California’s farmers and families up at night, and that is water — or the lack of it,” Obama said.

“… What happens here matters to every working American.”

With him were Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa.

“I applaud the President for coming to California during this very difficult drought, and I thank him for moving so quickly to provide relief for our state,” Boxer said.

The president quickly met with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin before boarding Marine One, the presidential helicopter, to visit farms and meet with local leaders.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 91.6 percent of California is experiencing severe to exceptional drought.

Earlier this month, Valley Republican Rep. David Valadao’s drought bill was passed by the House of Representatives amid Democratic concern and the threat of a presidential veto.

In response, Feinstein and Boxer unveiled their own drought bill Tuesday.

However, the Obama Administration isn’t waiting for Congress, Vilsack said.

“Rather than wait for congressional action, what we’re going to try to do is try to put the resources that are available, that we have control over, to use as quickly as possible,” he said.

Vilsack announced Friday that $160 million would be allocated to drought relief funding for the state — $100 million in livestock disaster assistance to ranchers and $60 million for state food banks.

None of the president’s stops in the Fresno area were open to the public.

“He’ll have an opportunity to observe the impact on the ground,” Vilsack said. “He’ll offer a message of hope, and a message that the federal government will do all that it can to try and alleviate some of the stress connected with this drought.”

Obama made two stops during his visit. The first was in Firebaugh, where he took part in a roundtable discussion with community leaders at the San Luis Water District.

There he spoke about cooling what has been an intense partisan debate over California’s water resources.

“We’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game,” Obama said. “We can’t afford years of litigation and no real action.”

The other stop was in Los Banos. Obama toured the farm of local farmer Joe Del Bosque, then delivered remarks on California’s record-breaking drought.

“I want to make sure that every Californian knows, whether you’re NorCal, SoCal, here in the Central Valley , your country is going to be there for you when you need it this year,” Obama said.

“But we’re going to have to all work together in the years to come to make sure that we address the challenge and leave this incredible land embodied to our children and our grandchildren in at least as good shape as we found it.”

The president also warned about effect of global climate change.

“The changing climate means drought, fire, storms, and floods will be costlier and harsher,” he said.

Obama returned to Fresno Yosemite International where he left Fresno for the Palm Springs area with Boxer to meet with the King of Jordan, Adullah II.

“While I’m grateful for his willingness to direct money, what we need is more storage to withstand the impacts of drought – a drought that is predictable and will come again,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Denham.