As President Barack Obama prepares for his visit to Fresno on Friday, we can’t help but be reminded of another presidential visit 52 years ago.
President John F. Kennedy came in 1962 to celebrate the groundbreaking for the San Luis Reservoir, which was built to hold 2 million acre-feet of irrigation water but has just 603,000 as of Wednesday – about half of what it held this time last year. Kennedy’s visit lasted two days and was a cause for celebration.
President Obama’s visit will be to look at a disaster in the making. And we wonder how much of this disaster is political. Considering the gridlock and animosity in Washington, we wonder if our nation is even capable of envisioning projects as large as the San Luis Reservoir? Projects that could do so much good.
What should be clear is the desperate need for additional water. We hope the president understands that we can’t provide more water in dry years unless we have places to store water in wet years.
San Luis Reservoir was completed in 1967; New Melones, another federal project, in 1979. Then the state had 22 million people; now it has 36 million. It’s well past time that we build more water storage.
This problem has been 40 years in the making, so the president deserves little blame. Others should have been planning for and requesting water projects for decades. The president will spend most of his time with some of them, including Gov. Jerry Brown (whose father envisioned the State Water Project), Rep. Jim Costa of Fresno, and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Hopefully, all can contribute to solutions.
Clearly not part of any solution are House Republicans, who last week passed a bill that essentially pits one part of the state against the others. They urged federal authorities to “open the taps,” sending Delta water to south Valley farmers. Such a divisive strategy is the last thing we need in a time of crisis.
Before he flies way away, we hope the president has enough time to understand other issues that bedevil us. In many ways, they’re the same issues that plague the rest of the nation – income inequality, immigration laws that don’t work, environmental degradation. But they’re worse here. He wouldn’t have to venture far from Fresno to find communities where residents can’t drink water from their faucets; communities whose residents face unemployment rates that have barely budged since the recession struck; towns filled with empty storefronts, and schools still without access to high-speed Internet.
Obama will see, if he looks, that California is more than Beverly Hills, Pacific Heights and Silicon Valley. We welcome the president to the part of California that is not near the Pacific Ocean, or the campaign money bundlers. We welcome him to the Valley and trust he has come to help.