USDA offers new drought relief aid

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- New federal and state drought relief programs targeted California. The U.S. Department of Agriculture programs were aimed at battling the drought from different angles.

The bulk of the $150 million in drought relief funding -- $130 million -- will be used to improve streams and make the forests more resilient in Northern California's Sierra-Cascade headwaters. $13.7 million will be made available for livestock producers to assist them with storage facilities.

Local ranchers, though, haven't made much use of previous government grants to help deal with the drought. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said, "$6 million is going to be made available to communities to encourage better wells and more efficient water systems."

South Valley communities like East Porterville and Terra Bella could benefit from that funding source. Vilsack said, "We're also providing resources to producers to be more efficient in the water that they use. There's a lot of work that can be done to make sure agriculture uses their irrigation systems more effectively and efficiently."

Many Valley farmers complained they have no water to conserve. Manuel Cunha of the Nisei Farmers League said, "But the secretary wants to come out and give monies to farmers or projects. You gotta have water to do conservation."

He added the newest USDA measures won't have a big impact on local growers. Moving more water south of the delta remained their goal. Cunha wondered, "Why would I go do drip irrigation if I don't have any water at all and I do flood. Where am going to get money to do such a project?"

The programs combined funding from the USDA, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the U.S. Forest Service.
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