During a visit to drought-stricken southern California Friday – suffering perhaps its worst dry-spell in 500 years, experts say – President Barack Obama will announce a new $1 billion “Climate Resilience Fund” he plans to include in his 2015 budget next month.
The funding would go toward research, local planning and resiliency projects and new technology and infrastructure.
“We must do more to help communities across the country become more resilient to the effects of climate change,” the White House said in a statement. “Recent events have reinforced our knowledge that our communities and economy remain vulnerable to extreme weather and natural hazards.”
California has been under a state of emergency since Jan. 24. Over three years, a lack of rain and snow has left rivers and reservoirs at record lows, and snow pack in the north – an important source of water for the state – has fallen to less than 20 percent of the normal average.
As many as 54 counties have been declared natural disaster areas by the Department of Agriculture, and last week, state officials named 17 towns at risk of completely running out of water within 100 days – two of them in Fresno County.
“We're facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept about 100 years ago,” Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said in a news conference announcing the state of emergency last month. “We can’t make it rain, but we can be much better prepared for the terrible consequences that California’s drought now threatens, including dramatically less water for our farms and communities and increased fires.”
Climate experts say that the drought – now extending into its third year – may in fact be the worst in not just a century, but half a millennium.
“The last time there was one this bad was in the 1500s,” says Terry Root, a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. “That’s the kind of thing we’re facing now with climate change.”
In addition to the Climate Resilience Fund, Obama will also highlight a range of federal aid for California, the White House said. Programs include $100 million in livestock disaster assistance, $15 million in conservation assistance, and $3 million in emergency water assistance grants from the USDA, $5 million in emergency watershed protection and $60 million for food banks from the USDA and Emergency Food Assistance Program.