Californian drought divides US party politics

2013 was the driest year Californians have seen since records began in 1849. The situation has become so severe that many in rural areas are at a risk of running out of drinking water. The knock-on effect of this severe drought is widespread and will have the greatest impact upon the state’s significant crops and farmlands. California’s multi-billion dollar agriculture industry makes up around 15% of all US crop sales. As crops are lost and livestock suffer, the price of food will continue to rise for Americans and many foods will become unavailable.

Another immediate concern is the number of wildfires breaking out across the state. Fire fighters have responded to over 400 fires so far, which when you compare this to the previous record of 69 it is clear just how large an emergency California is facing. So what has the response been from Washington and the state’s representatives in Congress and the House?

Republicans blame the drought on Democrat-led initiatives to protect the San Joaquin Delta which have provided federal environmental protections in order to restore the river’s flow towards natural salmon habitats and other species in the Delta area. House Resolution 3964 (backed by every Republican), the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act, is designed to let more water be sent southward from federal pumps in the Delta to San Joaquin Valley farms. In the words of Rep. House Speaker John Boehner: “How you can favor fish over people is something that people from my part of the world never understand.” However, the resolution will go no way to fixing the drought’s far reaching problems, and many feel it will set back the state’s conservation agenda and could therefore be seen as opportunistic anti-climate change meddling.

Democrat Senators who are opposed to the Resolution have made their own proposal to send $300 million in emergency relief to the area. Democrat Governor Brown of California is supporting the emergency relief fund but is also having to referee between the two warring parties. “They like to fight, and now they’re fighting,” Brown said. “That doesn’t help farmers, doesn’t help California, doesn’t help the country.” Obama will be visiting the state this weekend to defend how his administration is helping to tackle the problem.

Of course there are many across the Democratic party who are using the current situation in California as a platform for raising the issues of global warming. Denis McDonough, President Obama’s chief of staff was one of the first who tried to connect the historic lack of rainfall in California with global climate change. He was met with immediate mistrust and denial from Republicans who continue to vilify the science behind climate change, a reaction which does not seem to be lessening despite the snow in Texas, wide-spread flooding in the UK and ever increasing global temperatures. At its root, conservatives’ climate change denial is born of a basic distrust of government. An issue long repeated in US politics, the cost this time however, is not increased taxes or less guns on the streets but our planet’s survival.