Local Politics

Friday, Feb 07 2014 07:04 PM

Drought crisis to bring Obama to Fresno

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    By AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

    President Barack Obama walks from Marine One as he arrive on the South Lawn of the White House, Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, in Washington, as he returns from Michigan. The White House announced Friday that President Obama will come to Fresno on Feb. 14 to discuss the drought and federal efforts to deal with it.

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BY JOHN ELLIS The Fresno Bee

The White House announced Friday that President Obama will come to Fresno on Feb. 14 to discuss the drought and federal efforts to deal with it.

A White House official said further details about the president's trip to the central San Joaquin Valley will be made public in coming days.

The trip will mark Obama's first visit to the Fresno area. The only other time he visited the region was in October 2012 when he traveled to the United Farm Workers headquarters at Keene in Kern County to dedicate the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument.

The drought has been a key focus of action in the House this week. The Republican-led House on Wednesday passed a water bill authored by Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, that would limit water releases into the San Joaquin River to help the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The measure, which passed on largely party lines, also would allow expansion of McClure Reservoir on the Merced River, allow more storage at New Melones Reservoir, lengthen some federal irrigation contracts and pre-empt some state laws.

Congressional Democrats denounced the bill and California Gov. Jerry Brown called it divisive. Sen. Dianne Feinstein promised to propose a bill of her own.

House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, visited a dusty field in Bakersfield on Jan. 22 to see the impact of the drought firsthand. Following that meeting, he and Valley Republican congressmen -- Valadao, Devin Nunes of Tulare and Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield -- called on fellow lawmakers to support emergency legislation to help the farm-dependent Valley deal with the drought.

The emergency legislation passed by the House is now in the Senate, and Nunes is hopeful that the Senate will either take up the House bill or that Feinstein will offer her own legislation.

"I welcome the president to the Valley -- as long as he's going to tell us which way he's going to get us water. We don't need press conferences. We need action by the Senate and a signature by him."

Nunes said the Obama visit "must mean the Senate is going to take up our bill, pass it and we can have a bill-signing ceremony in Fresno next Friday. I hope that's the case."

Democrat Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno was glad to learn of the president's upcoming visit. "We've been wanting the president to come to the Valley for a long time. The federal agencies' willingness to work with the governor and state to deal with our short-term water problems is absolutely essential. I expect the president to talk about how he's going to cooperate with the governor to address problems not only in the Valley, but throughout California."

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