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President Obama could make it rain in California

Workers drill for water for a farmer on February 6, 2014 near Bakersfield, California. Now in its third straight year of unprecedented drought, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years and possible the worst in the past 500 years. 

President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the agriculturally-rich city of Fresno, California in order to help find answers to the statewide drought that has intensified the battle over who should get access to much-needed water in one of the country's largest states.

Farmers need water for their crops; fish need it because, well, they're fish; and the public needs it for various important things, too (like drinking and washing). While droughts have ooccured many times in California's history, a solution to prevent droughts has yet to be found and implemented. But there are still ways the government can provide relief, both in the short and long term. 

Federal assistance could be provided to farm laborers who are out of a job because of the drought as well as to farmers to help their businesses cover costs associated with lost crops and a lack of projected income, but that still doesn't solve the problem of the lack of water for other uses (see: fish, people).

"The federal government can't make it rain, but they can make it rain money," says Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. "Not to disappoint," Mount told Marketplace, "but it's mostly small-ball stuff that the federal government can do. Frankly, there's just not enough water here to go around no matter what."

Here's a longer-term solution: What the federal government can do to increase the water supply is invest in technology that captures waste water and storm runoff. 

"We don't capture it, we don't reuse it and there's a huge opportunity, billions of gallons in every rain storm," says Steve Fleischli, water program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

One more thing the federal government could do, Fleischli says, is tell states that if they want to receive drought relief funds from FEMA, they will have create policies that encourage more efficient water use.

About the author

David Weinberg is a general assignment reporter at Marketplace.
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