The drought has caused Democrats and Republicans in Congress to propose dueling emergency bills. Led by Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the House passed one that would free up water for farmers by rolling back environmental protections and stop the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River that once had salmon runs.
Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer proposed their own version that pours $300 million into drought-relief projects without changing environmental laws. The bill would allow more flexibility to move water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms in the south and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.
Mark Borba said he wasn’t invited to share his story with the president. His family’s Borba Farms won’t plant one-third of the 11,000 acres of almonds, tomatoes, garlic, lettuce, onions and much more they typically grow. Borba said the president could ease this year’s drought hardship on farmers by relaxing federal environmental regulations within the boundaries of the law intended to protect endangered fish.
“We don’t want money,” Borba said. “We don’t want a handout.”
Not everybody dismissed Obama’s announcement. Rick Palermo of the Community Food Bank in Fresno said he expects that the drought will lengthen lines in three Central Valley counties he serves. The Fresno food bank expects to receive some of the president’s money, but his worry is that the donations they get from farmers may be lacking.
About half of the 30 million pounds of food they distribute each year is grown in the Central Valley, he said.
“If folks aren’t growing it, there’s a good chance we’re not going to get the type of donations we need,” Palermo said. “It’s a dual impact on us.”
Members of least one environmental group converged on Fresno to voice their positions on California’s divisive struggles over water. Members of Restore the Delta, a grassroots environmental organization based in Stockton, oppose Gov. Jerry Brown’s multibillion-dollar twin-tunnels proposal for diverting water around the delta for use on farms.
Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said her group didn’t come to protest, but rather to try to educate the president.
“President Obama should not be misled,” she said. “We implore him not to support this boondoggle.”