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Biden Administration Declares California Drought Disaster. What Is Newsom Waiting For?



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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack designated 50 California counties as natural disaster areas last month because of the drought.

And, over the weekend, Fresno Congressman Jim Costa said on KSEE-24’s Sunday Morning Matters program that Gov. Newsom should declare a statewide emergency because of the dangerously dry conditions.

Vilsack is a Democrat and former Iowa governor who served eight years as President Obama’s top farming official. Costa is a Democrat.

Newsom Rejects Request for Emergency Declaration

Yet, Newsom, also a Democrat, last week rejected a request from a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers from the Valley to declare a statewide drought emergency. State Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a Fresno Republican, is leading the effort to obtain the emergency declaration.

“Drought is a recurring feature of the California climate, and we know from experience that early action improves response. We are in a better place today because of what we have learned from the most recent drought,” said Erin Mellon, the governor’s spokesperson.

“The Administration is already taking steps to address emerging dry year impacts, and to prepare for additional efforts if dry conditions continue or worsen. The state has met with legislators and stakeholders on this issue many times, and will continue to do so as we monitor the conditions closely. We stand ready to take additional actions if it becomes necessary.”

The time for additional action is now, Costa told KSEE-24 news anchor Alexan Balekian.

“Yes, it’s an emergency,” Costa said, noting that the drought negatively impacts both city residents and the farming industry and heightens the likelihood of devastating wildfires.

Borgeas, who is chair of the state Senate Agriculture Committee, sent a follow-up request for the declaration to Newsom today.

“California farmers need to make decisions now,” Borgeas said. “We can’t wait until the zenith of the drought to take action. Declaring an emergency will allow state agencies to cut through red tape and deliver more water to Valley farms. We can’t afford to wait any longer.”

Worst Western Drought Ever Ahead?

With the western United States in a longstanding megadrought, some scientists say the region is teetering on permanent drought. There also are predictions that 2021 will produce the worst western drought in modern history.

On Thursday, at Shaver Lake, the site of last year’s Creek Fire, Newsom and legislative leaders did announce budgeting $536 million for wildfire mitigation and forest management projects.

Newsom also used the occasion to challenge climate change deniers.

“You don’t believe in climate change? You don’t believe in science? You believe your own damn eyes. Something is happening as it relates to the issue of climate, and that’s exacerbating conditions and making the challenge of wildfire suppression and prevention that much more ominous,” Newsom said.

Vilsack’s disaster declaration opens the door for farmers to apply for federal emergency loans.

Read Ag Secretary’s Letter to Newsom

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email