Obama Announces Aid for Drought, UCSB Environmentalists Plan Awareness Program


Allyson Werner
National Beat Reporter

President Barack Obama offered tens of millions of dollars in aid on Friday, Feb. 14, to California, where a lack of rain and snow has resulted in the most severe drought in recent history. Obama pledged $183 million dollars from existing federal funds for drought relief programs in California.

“As anybody in this state could tell you, California’s living through some of its driest years in a century,” Obama 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.”

Obama then outlined actions being taken by the federal government.

“First we are accelerating $100 million in funds from the farm bill I signed last week to help ranchers,” he said. “If their fields have dried up, this is going to help them feed their livestock.”

“Second, last week, we announced $20 million to help hard-hit communities, and today, we’re announcing up to $15 million more for California and other states that are in extreme drought,” he continued.

Obama has also asked that all federal facilities take immediate action to curb their water use.

The state’s top democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, accompanied Obama. Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer proposed emergency drought legislation on Tuesday, Feb. 11, just three days before the president’s visit to Fresno.

In sum, the Senate legislation, co-sponsored by Oregon Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, would give state and federal officials “operational flexibility” to move water throughout California. The bill would also authorize $300 million in emergency aid and drought relief projects, such as upgrading city water systems and helping farmers conserve water.

California is currently the nation’s primary source of fruits and vegetables. For this reason, the legislation has met serious opposition from the GOP, which worries that efforts to save the diminishing water supply will negatively affect the production of produce.

Debate over the new legislation reflects the difficulties Democrats face in defending wildlife and rivers.

Many water-conscious University of California, Santa Barbara students have taken it upon themselves to assist drought relief efforts. Signs in the “sage house,” occupied primarily by excursion club members, encourage housemates and guests to be conservative with their water use.

Many students have commented on obvious signs of drought. For example, popular hiking trails no longer have the same appeal due to the lack of water.

“Seven falls [trail] is all dried up,” said Aaron Anderson, a fourth-year global studies major. “Just a year or so ago, there was water that people could swim in.”

Second-year ecology, evolution, and marine biology major Kai Wilmsen, co-chair of UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board (EAB), commented on their efforts to manage the drought.

“We are right in the middle of planning a drought awareness campaign to let the student body and everyone on campus know just how dire the situation is,” he said. “We feel like people will be more inclined to do their part on an individual level…if they know the extent of the issue.”

UCSB’s EAB is also working to make changes at the state level.

“We are also working…to petition Gov. Brown for a moratorium on fracking in California since it is…an incredibly water intensive practice,” said Wilmsen.

The Goleta Water District also commented on UCSB’s dedication to water conservation.

“UCSB reduced their potable water demand by 25% between 1997 and 2008 through water efficient fixtures, drought tolerant landscaping, and significant expansion of their recycled water use,” according to the district’s website.

Wilmsen advised students to do little things to aid relief efforts, such as taking shorter showers and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth.

“Our campus has actually been doing really well,” Wilmsen concluded, referring to university efforts to limit water consumption. “My co-chair and I are meeting with the UCSB Water Resource Manager to talk about what the university is doing and how it can improve, but so far it sounds like they are and have been conscious of water use.”