USDA official visits California to discuss drought
DIXON, Calif. — The USDA’s point person on drought resiliency nationwide met with California farmers and decision-makers this week to discuss how the federal government can help meet communities’ needs.
Ann Mills, the agency’s deputy undersecretary for natural resources and environment, toured a farm here June 17 which has an original homestead document signed by President Ulysses S. Grant.
She met June 18 with state Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross and with the Delta Stewardship Council and planned to meet with Gov. Jerry Brown’s drought task force during her three-day stay.
“It’s a packed agenda,” Mills told the Capital Press. “My intention is to learn and share information so we can do a better job going forward of supporting long-term drought resiliency in California.”
Mills is a co-leader of the federal Drought Resilience Partnership, which the USDA is conducting along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The group is pondering the role of the federal government in addressing drought resiliency in the face of climate change, said Anita Brown, a Natural Resources Conservation Service spokeswoman.
In response to the current drought in California, Mills has been taking part in conference calls the governor’s office has been holding with various affected parties and making sure emergency assistance dollars get “where they need to be,” she said.
In February, President Barack Obama designated $100 million in livestock disaster assistance, $5 million in targeted conservation assistance, $3 billion in water grants for rural communities and other money to help California through the drought.
In addition, Obama has proposed a $1 billion Climate Resilience Fund, which would include money to help communities plan for the impacts of future droughts.
“The president has said … it’s incumbent on us to make sure we have a long-term sustainable agricultural economy and to make these investments in long-term drought resiliency,” Mills said.
Mills was also honoring California’s Bay-Delta watershed’s recent designation as a critical conservation area under the USDA’s new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which was created under the new Farm Bill.
The designation opens up a pot of funding for projects to improve water quality, water supply or species habitat in the watershed that stretches from the Oregon state line to Bakersfield. Mills said the amount of funding will depend on applications, as groups must supply matching funds.
Mills supervises the NRCS, which in California had a budget last year of about $145 million. Its 400 employees and 55 offices throughout California provide technical and financial help for farmers who are seeking to protect natural resources.
National Drought Resilience Partnership: http://www.drought.gov/drought/
Regional Conservation Partnership Program: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/programs/farmbill/rcpp/