EDITORIAL: Obama hits right note on drought

February 14, 2014 


President Barack Obama, center, stands at a lecturn with politicians including Dianne Feinstein, far left, governor Jerry Brown, second from left, US Senator Barbara Boxer, second from right, and congressman Jim Costa, far right, with farming couple Joe De Bosque and his wife Maria Gloria De Bosque, in the background on the couple's farmland south of Los Banos, Calif. addressing drought issues to the media on Friday, February 14, 2014.


Correction: An earlier version incorrectly reported David Valadao's political party as Democrat.

President Barack Obama saw the San Joaquin Valley's dry canals, parched earth and fallow fields. He listened to political leaders, farmers and farmworkers explain the economic devastation of this historic drought during a three-hour visit Friday afternoon.

And then the president said something that some people embroiled in California's long and bitter water fights have yearned to hear for decades: "Water has been seen as a zero sum game: agriculture against urban, north against south. 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."

We will hold him to those words, as well as his promise to stay on top of the state's water problem "because it has national implications."

They are big national implications, in fact. While the rest of the nation knows that Hollywood provides much of its entertainment, most Americans don't realize that a large percentage of the food on their tables and in their refrigerators is grown in California — or more precisely in the Central Valley.

Without adequate water, our state and our Valley economies slow to a crawl, and food prices soar. Now that he understands the magnitude of farming here, we expect Obama to roll up his sleeves and even risk political capital to hammer out the necessary solutions to keep the water flowing and protect — and in some cases, restore — California's environment.

Unfortunately, our Valley's Republican congressional delegation is so wedded to talking points, it missed the significance of Obama's observation that California can't afford more years of litigation without action.

"This administration has chosen handouts and a climate change lecture over real solutions," said Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford.

"To blame the California water crisis on global warming is ludicrous," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. "The state has an incredible irrigation system designed to supply water through five years of drought."

Not to lecture, but help comes in many ways and on different timetables.

The $200 million in immediate aid that Rep. Valadao dismissed as "handouts" includes $100 million in livestock disaster assistance for California ranchers. There is $60 million to help foodbanks in California so that people are fed. There is $5 million for conservation assistance in California. And $3 million in emergency water grants for rural communities.

No rational person would expect Obama to land in Fresno, wave his hand, make it rain and end California's ongoing water disputes.

That will take much hard work, and dare we say it, compromise by farmers and environmentalists, and compromise by stakeholders north and south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

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