FRESNO, Calif., Feb. 14 (UPI) -- President Obama announced a four-prong approach Friday to help Californians get through one of the state's worst-ever droughts.
Speaking at the farm of Joe Del Bosque in Los Banos, Calif., Obama said his administration's assistance for the parched state would include accelerating $100 million from the farm bill to help ranchers, allocating $15 million more on top of the $20 million given hard-hit communities last week, directing the Interior Department "to use its existing authorities, where appropriate, to give water contractors flexibility to meet their obligations," and ordering all federal facilities in California "to take immediate steps to curb their water use, including a moratorium on water usage for new, non-essential landscaping projects."
"As anybody in this state could tell you, California's living through some of its driest years in a century," the president said. "Right now, almost 99 percent of California is drier than normal -- and the winter snowpack that provides much of your water far into the summer is much smaller than normal.
"While drought in regions outside the West is expected to be less severe than in other years, California is our biggest economy, California is our biggest agricultural producer, so what happens here matters to every working American, right down to the cost of food that you put on your table."
Obama urged Congress "work through some of the concerns" expressed about a bipartisan drought bill offered Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both D-Calif., and others to "make sure that we're getting some short-term relief to folks, but also long-term certainty for people who are going to be harmed by this drought."
Obama said the drought is a sample of what's to come with global warming.
"Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get worse," he said. "And the hard truth is even if we do take action on climate change, carbon pollution has built up in our atmosphere for decades.
"The planet is slowly going to keep warming for a long time to come. So we're going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for; we've got to start looking at these disasters as something to prepare for, to anticipate, to start building new infrastructure, to start having new plans, to recalibrate the baseline that we're working off of.
"And everybody, from farmers to industry to residential areas, to the north of California and the south of California and everyplace in between, as well as the entire Western region are going to have to start rethinking how we approach water for decades to come."
California received record low snow and rainfall this winter after suffering from a record drought last year and a moderately dry 2012.
State officials announced two weeks ago they would, for the first time, cut off the water to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.
Seventeen rural communities providing water to 40,000 people are in danger of running out within 60 to 120 days, and state officials say that number is likely to rise in the months ahead.