President Barack Obama called the California drought a national concern and promised millions of dollars worth of assistance to the state that provides almost half of the fruits and vegetables for the U.S.
“What happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food you put on your table,” Obama said in in the state’s fertile Central Valley, where farmers are being forced to idle thousands of acres of fields and rural towns are running short of drinking water.
Obama also linked the drought, one of the worst in California history, to climate change and said local, state and federal governments must start preparing for the impact of more extreme weather events.
“There has to be a sense of urgency about this,” he said. “This cannot be a partisan endeavor.”
The administration plans to accelerate distribution of as much as $100 million in aid to ranchers to help feed livestock and offer compensation for losses. The Agriculture Department is also making available $15 million in conservation aid for the worst drought regions in California and in five other states to reduce wind erosion on damaged fields and to improve livestock access to water.
The White House said $60 million has been made available to California food banks for families affected by the drought, and plans are under way to establish 600 summer meal sites in hard-hit regions this summer.
Another $5 million is being set aside to protect vulnerable soil, along with $3 million in grants to communities facing water shortages and $3 million in grants for towns facing a decline in water quality or quantity.
As part of his policy on climate change, Obama plans to ask Congress to approve a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund in the budget plan he’ll send to lawmakers March 4 for the fiscal 2015 spending year, which begins Oct. 1.
If approved, the money would be devoted to researching the projected effect of climate change on agriculture, communities and the nation’s infrastructure, according to a White House fact sheet. If would also finance research leading to “breakthrough technologies” to help cope with climate change.
Republicans in Congress, some of whom have questioned whether the climate is warming because of human activity, have rejected many of the new spending proposals Obama has presented in past budgets.