On Monday the nation celebrates President’s Day. I don’t believe there was a more appropriate time than on Friday, Feb. 14th for a Valley Presidential visit. President Barack Obama, flying in Air Force One, landed at Fresno-Yosemite International (FYI) Airport on Fri. at 2:40 p.m. As well on the jet were California Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jim Costa.
Mr. Obama’s visit to the San Joaquin Valley in general and to Fresno and Fresno County in particular wasn’t so much appropriate for its connection with President’s Day, but more because of the reason for the President’s visit. He was here to talk about the California drought – now in its third year – and climate change.
Moreover, and related to the drought, I understand listening to and viewing a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) report which aired on the News Hour also on Friday, “… more than 90 percent of the state is experiencing a severe to exceptional shortage of water,” emphatic news anchor Judy Woodruff remarked. Add to this average Sierra snowpack is approximately 25 percent of normal for this time of year. Season-to-date rainfall total for Fresno County, meanwhile, is 2.3 inches. Normal for this time of year is 6.93 inches. The season runs from July 1 through June 30. Last year on this date, county rainfall totaled 4.39 inches.
Because of the ongoing dry spell, California’s $44 billion-a-year agricultural industry is stressed to say the least and it almost goes without saying that relief is desperately needed. This has become a matter of great urgency.
In fact, a considerable amount of Valley farm acreage has been fallowed and according to environmental reporter Mark Grossi of The Fresno Bee, come summertime, over two million San Joaquin Valley-based farm acres may be denied any federally administered Central Valley Project water at all.
Just so you are aware, the purpose of my writing this actually has more to do with the air than it does the drought, the primary focus being the local atmospheric conditions during the President’s brief three-hour stay. As it turns out, Fresno County was enveloped in what I would call pretty poor winter air quality – the Daily Air Quality Forecast was observed to be 127 or Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups for fine particle pollution (PM 2.5) according to data collected and presented by the regional air district.
On the Valley’s West Side (near Mendota) – where the Commander-In-Chief held a press conference – skies were quite solemn-looking – what I would describe as a dingy, murky gray. At the end of the day, I would have to believe the bad air as it were could not help but serve to accentuate the Valley’s already severe and unsustainable meteorological conditions even more – conditions that should by all means call for change.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe things were helped one iota when one local newscaster reporting on the President’s visit and upon his return to FYI in essence remarked: what a way for the day to be capped off, the reporter making reference to a glorious sunset, in other words.
Top image: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
– Alan Kandel