Political Notebook

U.S. Commerce Secretary Pritzker visits Fresno, hears water concerns

U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker
U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker

Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker made a brief visit to Fresno on Wednesday, where she talked with farmers and agriculture officials about trade, economic opportunities and, primarily, water.

“She was well briefed,” said Rep. Jim Costa, the Fresno Democrat who invited Pritzker to visit. “She knew the challenges created for water users here in the Valley.”

Costa said Pritzker talked for 30 to 40 minutes about efforts by the U.S. Department of Commerce to improve economic activity for businesses, as well as business opportunities and the impact of trade for California. The final 45 minutes were devoted to water and the short-term challenges faced with operating the federal water project.

The Commerce Department, Costa said, has oversight of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which has jurisdiction over endangered winter-run salmon in the Sacramento River.

At the same time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under the U.S. Department of the Interior, has similar oversight of the threatened delta smelt. And the U.S. Department of Reclamation is charged with providing the water and operating the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps that supply much of the central San Joaquin Valley’s west side with water.

Those present included representatives of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic and African American chambers of commerce, various agriculture organizations and the general managers of water agencies – from both the Valley’s east and west sides – that are located south of the delta.

The San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority made a presentation to Pritzker and west side farmer Dan Errotabere gave the farming perspective.

“Water was the main focus of the meeting,” Costa said.

In a statement released by Costa’s office, Pritzker said it is the Commerce Department’s job “to help set the conditions for businesses and workers in all of America’s diverse industries, including the Valley’s agriculture industry, to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy. (Wednesday’s) discussion allowed me to learn how the Department of Commerce can best serve as a partner to companies in the Valley looking to take advantage of new opportunities at home and around the world.”

Costa said the meeting came about after he had a conversation on water with Pritzker at the White House about six weeks ago. He said the visit was valuable because she was able to hear firsthand about how the drought and water issues are affecting the region’s agriculture industry.