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AAA Feb. 14, 2014 6:05 AM ET
President Obama visits California's drought region
By SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama will visit California's drought-stricken agricultural heartland Friday to meet with community leaders, farmers and others and to announce initiatives to help the Central Valley.
Obama is scheduled to meet with a round table of farmers, a group that has accused the federal government of putting rivers and fish above their crops and livelihoods.
Ryan Jacobsen, executive director of the Fresno County Farm Bureau, said he hopes Obama comes with both immediate relief and a long-term strategy for helping California in its third straight dry year.
"It's now wait-and-see what President Obama is bringing, or if anything is going to come of the visit," said Jacobsen, who is not among those meeting with Obama.
The Central Valley produces nearly one-third of the nation's fruits and vegetables, and Fresno County leads the nation in agriculture. But Jacobsen estimates that 25 percent of the county's farmland will go unplanted because of the drought.
"We're talking life and death when it comes to permanent crops down here," Jacobsen said.
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.
Members of least one environmental group plan to converge 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, hope to show Obama their opposition to Gov. Jerry Brown's multibillion-dollar twin-tunnels proposal for diverting water around the delta for use on farms.
Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, the group's executive director, said her group won't protest, but rather try to educate the president.
"President Obama should not be misled," she said. "We implore him not to support this boondoggle."Associated Press
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