Matt Vieira / The Collegian
President Barack Obama toured the Central Valley Friday to address California’s record-breaking drought, disaster relief funding for farmers and climate change.
“Today, we’re here to talk about the resource that’s keeping more and more of 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, right down to the cost of food you put on your table.”
Air Force One landed at 2:39 p.m. at Fresno Yosemite International airport carrying Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. Jim Costa, marking the president’s first trip to the agricultural hub of California.
“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.
Although Obama did not make any public appearances in Fresno during his trip, people crowded around viewpoints near the airport with binoculars and pushed against airport fences to try to catch a glimpse of the president and the iconic plane.
Obama walked down the steps of the plane with Costa, briefly meeting with Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin before beginning his expeditious visit.
“I welcomed him and thanked him for his attention to this issue,” Swearengin said.
“But I also made sure to point out that we have long-standing issues of poverty and unemployment in the city of Fresno even when we have plenty of water. The drought makes everything worse. But we also want to deal with long-standing chronic issues that face us in the Valley.”
Using Marine One, the presidential helicopter, Obama zipped across the Central Valley making appearances in Fresno, Firebaugh and Los Banos during his three-hour visit.
“He’ll have an opportunity to observe the impact on the ground,” Vilsack said prior to the visit. “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.”
In Firebaugh, 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.
“I think there’s a tendency historically to think of water as a zero sum game,” Obama said, “where either the agricultural interests are getting it, or urban areas are getting it, or it’s north or south. Given what we anticipate to be a significant reduction in the overall amount of water, we’re going to have to figure out how to play a different game.”
Obama toured the drought-stricken property of local farmer Joe Del Bosque in Los Banos and announced disaster relief funding for California, promising to streamline more than $180 million in federal money to areas of California impacted by the drought.
This funding includes $100 million for livestock disaster assistance and $60 million for food banks.
“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 waded into climate change, saying that the U.S. must prepare for more instances of water scarcity as the effects of carbon pollution escalate.
“Water politics in California have always been complicated, but scientific evidence shows that a change in climate is going to make them more intense,” Obama said.
Though scientists debate whether the drought is caused by climate change, changing temperatures cause less usable water, he said.
“Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend’s going to get worse,” Obama said. “And the hard truth is, even if we do take action on climate change, carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades. The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come.”
Valley Republicans harshly criticized Obama’s linkage of climate change with the drought.
“To blame the California water crisis on global warming is ludicrous,” said Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, who represents parts of Clovis and northern Fresno.
“Invoking global warming shows ignorance of California’s irrigation system and of basic math and engineering. President Obama could have taken the lead in solving this crisis, but he is apparently more concerned with placating his radical environmentalist allies.
In addition to executive funding directives, two dueling congressional drought bills have been proposed.
The most recent, introduced by Feinstein and Boxer, received the endorsement of Obama during his Valley trip.
That bill came as a response to the Republican drought bill offered by Valley Republican Rep. David Valadao that was passed by the House of Representatives earlier this month. The bill faced tough senate criticism over its effect on environmental policy and a possible presidential veto.
“The President missed a prime opportunity today,” Valadao said in response of Obama’s visit.
“As farmers, farmworkers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley suffer, this administration has chosen handouts and a climate change lecture over real solutions. We feed the world, and all we ask for is a reliable, clean water supply.
“I will remind the president that my constituents are part of the environment too, and the lack of a long-term solution could spell economic and social destruction for the Central Valley,” Valadao said.
After speaking in Los Banos, Obama returned to Fresno and flew to Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs. where he met with the King of Jordan, Abdullah II, to speak about regional issues including the Syrian peace process.
Obama spent the remainder of the weekend in California at Sunnylands, an estate that aims to be “the Camp David of the West,” golfing with old friends. First Lady Michelle Obama did not accompany the president on the trip.