Highlighting Calif. drought, Obama says US must figure out how to meet everyone's water needs

The Associated Press

A sercret service agent looks over a farm field as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on California's drought situation Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 in Los Banos, Calif. Farmers in California's drought-stricken Central Valley said the financial assistance President Barack Obama delivered on his visit Friday does not get to the heart of California's long-term water problems. (AP Photo/Los Angeles Times, Wally Skalij, Pool)

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By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) — President Barack Obama drew a link between climate change and California's drought, and said the U.S. must do a better job of figuring out how to make sure everyone's water needs are satisfied.

On a tour of central California on Friday, Obama warned that weather-related disasters will only get worse.

"We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water," Obama said after touring part of a farm that is suffering under the state's worst drought in more than 100 years.

"Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed," he said.

Even if the U.S. takes immediate action to curb pollution, the planet will keep getting warmer for a long time to come because of greenhouse gases that already have built up, he said.

"We're going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for," Obama said, announcing more than $160 million in federal financial aid. The sum includes $100 million in the farm bill he signed into law last week for programs that cover the loss of livestock.

The package includes smaller aid amounts for the most extreme drought areas and to help food banks serving families affected by the water shortage. Obama also called on federal facilities in California to begin conserving water immediately.

"These actions will help, but they're just the first step," he said. "We have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher."

The budget Obama will send Congress next month includes $1 billion for a "climate resilience fund" to invest in research and pay for new technologies to help communities deal with climate change. The proposal is likely to face stiff opposition from lawmakers wary of new spending and divided on global warming.

Obama urged Congress to act swiftly on Democratic legislation backed by California's senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, that would pour $300 million into emergency aid and drought-relief projects, upgrade city water systems and water conservation, and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.

The White House has threatened to veto a Republican, House-passed bill that would roll back environmental protections and temporarily halt the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River, work that is designed to restore historic salmon runs. The White House says the measure would not alleviate the drought but would undo decades of work to address California's longstanding water shortages.

In the evening, Obama met Jordan's King Abdullah II at the Rancho Mirage estate Sunnylands for talks focused largely on Syria.

Obama announced he would seek authority from Congress for new financial aid for Jordan, a key Arab ally of the U.S., including $1 billion in loan guarantees to help it manage the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Syrian war. He also wants to renew a five-year aid program for the kingdom.

Jordan's economy is struggling in part because of the influx of the nearly 600,000 refugees seeking an escape from the day-to-day death and destruction from the civil war in next-door Syria, which began in 2011.

The refugees have overwhelmed Jordan, a country of 6 million people, straining its health care and education systems and other resources. Jordanians fear the spillover violence from Syria and the potential the presence of the refugees could create a regional base for extremists and terrorists.