President Obama visits the Central Valley

President Barack Obama arrived in the Central Valley Friday to discuss the drought.
February 14, 2014 7:32:50 AM PST
President Barack Obama arrived at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport for his first visit to the Valley on Friday afternoon.

President Obama was accompanied by Valley Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA) and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barabara Boxer (D-CA) as they departed Air Force One. President Obama was then greeted by Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin before he boarded the Marine One helicopter to head to Western Fresno County for a roundtable meeting.

"I think Governor Brown is going a long way to put long term solutions on the table. And I think the president is here to meet with him and our congressional delegation and to look at this from a comprehensive approach," said Swearengin.

The president did not schedule any public events, but several groups were looking for the president to take their views into account during his Valley visit.

A Tea Party group gathered outside the airport for their "Rally for Water." Tea partiers want President Obama to increase the water available to farmers by increasing the flow coming from the delta. On the flip side of the water issue, the "Restore the Delta" group wants the president to help stop Governor Brown's plan to build massive tunnels to distribute more water.

Hundreds of people lined the streets around the Fresno airport on Friday hoping for a glimpse of President Obama. People waited for hours to see Air Force One land and some were even here selling posters to commemorate the event. When Air Force One landed many people in the crowd were excited, pausing to take photos, and many gathering together to enjoy what they say is really a "once in a lifetime" experience for them.

During his visit, President Obama toured just one Central Valley farm and held a round-table discussion with growers and community leaders. Joe Del Basque grows a number of crops many of which may not be planted this year because of the drought devastation.

"He's got some funds that he wants to help us with," Del Bosque said. "But we stressed we need long-term solutions."

Del Bosque knows the usual and painful struggles for those working in and running valley farm fields. He stressed to the president how the drought may force him to keep a thousand acres of fertile land idle, and how that could force a lot people out of work.

"I feel that very deeply," Del Bosque said. "Our farm workers are very important to me. I come from a farmworker family. So when I go out there and talk to somebody, like the president, I feel like I'm speaking for all of us."

When the president landed on the Valley's west side this cloud of dust proved just how dry it is. In a roundtable discussion at the San Luis Water Facility the president acknowledged the complaints of those struggling here.

President Obama addressed the ongoing drought. "Because of the huge economic impact of what you do, not just on California but the nation overall, there is a national concern for the drought facing California," President Obama said.

President Obama is offering $100 million in livestock disaster assistance to help for those struggling to cover things like rising feed costs. He also promised to fund conservation efforts, fund food banks and summer lunch programs in anticipation of a severe loss of labor work.

Valley growers, for the most part, are glad assistance is heading to the valley from our nation's capital. Growers who met with the president said they hope by him coming to see just how dry the Valley is, he will understand the drastic impact this historic drought is having on California growers. But, they point out, the one thing not listed in the president's drought action plan, long-term solutions like water storage.

Others in the agriculture industry felt that the President's plan ignored their problems caused by the drought. "The government seems to want to focus on the growers and the laborers, but it leaves small business out, all Ag business in between," Doug Thiel said. Thiel runs a crop dusting business and feels the president is ignoring the fact that his side of the Ag industry is down as much as 75 percent this year. "To me it leaves us out in the cold."

While quick cash is welcome some involved in the discussion say they hope the president leaves the Valley to focus on long-term solutions. "We gotta start doing some storage and release," Manuel Cunha, of the Nisei Farmers League, said. "Lessen some of the regulations; we talked about that with the secretary. Some of the regulations have to be relaxed so we can do some of these things to build storage."

No matter what the president does, everyone knows, the Valley still needs more rain and snow. "Without water, agriculture here is crippled," Del Bosque said.

Some also hoped the president would issue an executive order to pump water from the delta to the Valley. Both Ag secretary Tom Vilsack and the president took notes on the suggestions offered, growers said. They're hoping they keep their promise to find long-term water solutions.

In January, House Speaker John Boehner traveled to Bakersfield to announce a proposal that, he said, would address the impact drought is having in the area. The bill would allow the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta pumps to operate as long as water is available. It would also stop the San Joaquin River restoration -- the agreement to reconnect the river with the Pacific Ocean and reintroduce salmon flows.

Load Comments