President responds to California's drought
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February 27, 2014
President responds to California's drought

With a visit to a farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley, President Obama called national attention to what may be the state’s worst drought in 100 years of recordkeeping.  The administration has responded to the conditions with a collection of actions by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and other agencies to help the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and communities being impacted.  

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Extreme and exceptional

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), water levels in all but a few reservoirs in California are less than 50 percent of capacity.  NOAA’s Drought Monitor reported that as of February 11, 2014, extreme drought (D3) was afflicting 61 percent of the state, and nearly 10 percent was in exceptional drought (D4).  D3 and D4 are the two most severe categories used by the Drought Monitor.  According to the California Department of Water Resources, the average water content of the critical high-elevation Sierra Nevada snowpack is 3 inches, just 15 percent of the early-February normal. 

Natural disaster for 54 counties

On January 17, 2014, California’s Governor Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency to respond to the drought.  The proclamation gave state water officials more flexibility to manage the supply throughout California under drought conditions.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also declared 54 counties in California as primary natural disaster areas due to drought, making farmers and ranchers eligible for emergency loans. 

In his address at the farm of Joe and Maria Del Bosque, the president said droughts have always afflicted the western part of the country, but “scientific evidence shows that a changing climate is going to make them more intense.”  The president said that his climate action plan includes such measures to protect critical sectors of the economy as the establishment of seven new climate hubs, including one at the University of California at Davis to specifically aid California with specialty crops.  The president added that the budget he is sending to Congress in March includes $1 billion in new funding for new technologies to help communities build infrastructure that is more resilient to climate effects.

Program assistance

Other federal drought-response actions highlighted during the president’s visit include:

  • Implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program, including up to $100 million for California.  Coverage will also be available for losses in 2012 and 2013. Farmers will be able to sign up for this program in April;
  • $5 million for the most extreme and exceptional drought areas in California under the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) administered by the USDA.  Drought-impacted areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and New Mexico will have access to an additional $10 million under EQIP.
  • $3 million in emergency water assistance to rural communities.  California state health officials have already identified 17 small community water districts in 10 counties that are at risk of running out of water in 60 to 120 days. This number is expected to increase if current conditions persist.
  • A presidential order that federal facilities immediately curb water use, matching orders Governor Brown gave to state agencies in his January 17, 2014, emergency proclamation. 
$300 million aid bill

 

The president also expressed support for a bill introduced in the Senate by California Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Washington Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley (all Democrats), which would provide an additional $300 million in emergency funds for a range of projects to maximize water supplies for farmers, consumers, and municipalities and provide economic assistance. 

The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) expressed appreciation for the president’s visit to California and the assistance he announced.  The CFBF pointed out that Southern California is not feeling the drought as badly as the rest of the state.

“That’s because Southern California has invested in water storage and effective management of that storage,” said the CFBF.  “The entire state needs to follow that strategy.”

A fact sheet on the administration’s drought response

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