Political Notebook

Marco Rubio hits Fresno, raises money, tours Friant Dam, hears water woes

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio slipped in and out of Fresno this week, made a little money for his leadership political action committee, and got a bit of an education on the central San Joaquin Valley’s water woes.

Rubio, a Republican, the Sunshine State’s junior senator and a possible 2016 presidential candidate, took an hourlong tour of Friant Dam and Lake Millerton, where Mario Santoyo, Manuel Cunha Jr. and others got to bend his ear about the Valley’s topic number one — water.

He then attended a lunch fundraiser at the Fort Washington Country Club that benefitted his leadership PAC.

“We were part of the program to educate him on water and take him to Friant Dam and talk to him about the importance of surface storage,” said Santoyo, who represents the Latino Water Coalition and is also assistant general manager of the Friant Water Authority.

Santoyo said they told Rubio about the state’s water bond, the need for construction of the proposed Temperance Flat reservoir above Lake Millerton and, perhaps most important, the need for federal help in securing funds for the project not covered by the state.

Cunha, president of the Fresno-based Nisei Farmers League, said Rubio was given a water perspective from both the Valley’s east side and its west side.

One stark image, Cunha said, was showing Rubio the low water level in Millerton.

Rubio also got a quick primer on the San Joaquin River Water Exchange Contractors Authority and its users’ complicated deal to exchange their San Joaquin River water for Northern California river water.

And Rubio’s takeaway from it all?

“He understood completely,” Santoyo said. “I think the Valley got a friend in Mr. Rubio as we move forward trying to advance things in (Washington) DC.”

Said Cunha: “He has a better understanding about the water crisis in California.”