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San Luis National Wildlife Refuge
San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Banos, California, where
 President Obama will be speaking Friday afternoon.
President Obama will be visiting a Fresno farm Friday in one of the areas of California hardest hit by the drought that some are saying is the worst in at least 500 years. The state's San Joaquin Valley is one of the nation's premier agricultural regions, but it's all made possible by irrigation water that is in very short supply this year, the third of a record-breaking three-year dry spell. Last year was the driest in California since 1849, when record-keeping began, a year before statehood.

In a speech to be delivered in late afternoon, the president will, according to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, announce assistance of more than $180 million and make a connection between global warming and the drought.

That assistance will include $150 million for livestock losses this year and previous years, $5 million in new conservation assistance aid, $5 million in emergency watershed protection grants and $3 million in water grants to rural communities.

Recent rains have marginally improved the situation in a few of the state's mostly parched reservoirs, but the snowpack of the Sierras, run-off from which California depends for much of its water, is 27 percent of normal statewide and just 17 percent in the northern part of the state.

B. Lynn Ingram, a professor of earth and planetary science and geography at UC Berkeley Professor, paints a disturbing picture. Together with geographer and environmental biologist Frances Malamud-Roam, Ingram wrote The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow. See below the fold for what she had to say in a recent interview.

If you go back thousands of years, you see that droughts can go on for years if not decades, and there were some dry periods that lasted over a century, like during the Medieval period and the middle Holocene. The 20th century was unusually mild here, in the sense that the droughts weren’t as severe as in the past. It was a wetter century, and a lot of our development has been based on that.

The late 1930s to the early 1950s were when a lot of our dams and aqueducts were built, and those were wetter decades. I think there’s an assumption that we’ll go back to that, and that’s not necessarily the case. We might be heading into a drier period now. It’s hard for us to predict, but that’s a possibility, especially with global warming. When the climate’s warmer, it tends to be drier in the West.

Precisely what the president will say today regarding global warming hasn't been announced. Since one of the people who will be joining him for his tour of California farm country is Sen. Barbara Boxer, something it would be encouraging to hear him say is that he stands behind two pieces of climate-related legislation that Boxer and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont introduced exactly a year ago but have been languishing ever since.

The legislation consists of two parts. First is the Sustainable Energy Act, which would cut subsidies and tax breaks for the fossil fuel industry and extend tax credits for production of renewable energy from solar, wind and geothermal sources through 2021. Second is the Climate Protection Act, which would establish a carbon emissions fee of $20 per ton on nearly 3,000 of the largest polluters with 60 percent of the revenue going for rebates each month to American families, provide for investments in renewable energy and efficiency, and protect people from hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

That legislation has gathered a pitiful collection of co-sponsors. While it has zero chance of passage in a House of Representatives filled with global warming-denying jackasses, strong backing from President Obama could possibly give it the support needed to clear the Senate. That would at least show the American people that more than a handful of politicians are actually serious about doing something regarding climate change instead of merely running their mouths about it.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Fri Feb 14, 2014 at 10:31 AM PST.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS and Daily Kos.

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