By ROBERT RODRIGUEZ
The Fresno Bee
FRESNO -- In a sign that Washington is paying attention to the Valley's water woes, two federal officials came to the Fresno area Wednesday.
U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spent the day in Fowler -- his second day in the area -- while Sen. Dianne Feinstein met with farmers and water agency officials on the west side.
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Feinstein said she would keep on pressing for a more practical approach to water distribution in California.
In particular, she said she is encouraging the U.S. Department of the Interior to take another look at two biological opinions for how to protect the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, as well as salmon and the delta smelt. Farmers have argued that the rules can restrict crucial water flows to the Valley.
Earlier this year, the Westlands Water District and the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority sued the federal government to try and stop the federal government from enforcing rules that protect the delta smelt.
"The rules need to be reconsidered." The visits by Feinstein and Vilsack come after farmers and community leaders have stepped up their efforts to get President Barack Obama's attention with rallies and marches.
Vilsack heard from farmers about two of the regions' biggest issues: water and immigration reform.
Both have been on the minds of many growers as regulatory decisions and several dry years have pinched water supplies, and as farmers have struggled with an unstable labor supply.
"Those issues really speak to the heart of the ag industry," said Dennis Parnagian, president of Fowler Packing, whose operation Vilsack toured during his stop in the Fresno area Wednesday.
Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who toured the Fowler packing house with Vilsack, said he appreciated the secretary's visit to the Valley.
Vilsack also stopped in Modesto on Wednesday afternoon for a town hall meeting.
Vilsack provided less hope for growers on the immigration front.
He said that while the president supports comprehensive immigration reform and believes it is long overdue, the administration is making health care reform and climate change its top priorities.