U.S. President Barack Obama is offering millions of dollars in aid and other assistance to California farmers, ranchers and communities beset by one of the worst droughts in the state’s history.
The federal help will be detailed today by Obama when he’s joined by California Governor Jerry Brown in Fresno, in the state’s fertile Central Valley. The drought is forcing farmers there to leave idle thousands of acres of fields in the state that supplies almost half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables. It has also left 17 rural towns so low on drinking water that the state may need to start trucking in supplies.
"The federal government will do all that it can to try to alleviate some of the stress," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on a conference call yesterday previewing the trip. "We are here to help, to the extent that we can."
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 five other drought- stricken states to reduce wind erosion on damaged fields and 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.
Crop losses, property damage and lost tourism will hit California’s economy, which would rank as the world’s 10th largest, as it’s still emerging from the effects of the worst recession since the 1930s. Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing may reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group.
The state also has become a tinderbox. There have been at least 487 wildfires so far in 2014, compared with only two for the same period a year ago, according to the state Forestry and Fire Protection Department.
Lawmakers at the state and federal level are debating steps to mitigate the water shortage.