Trump Gives California Farmers More Water — Costing Salmon and Salmon Fishermen Theirs

California farmers set to benefit from water diversions  Photo: Marty Bicek, Zuma Press via the Wall Street Journal

In a blatantly political move, last Wednesday President Trump in California signed an executive order diverting water from rivers where it keeps alive endangered salmon and other fish populations, in order to give it to farmers, a move which he announced in a visit to the Central Valley thereby keeping a campaign promise from 2016.  The state of California sued immediately — the move by the Administration arguably violates the federal Endangered Species Act — while the President touted his order saying he would direct “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water for the use of California farmers and ranchers.”

Why This Matters:  Water shortages in California due to climate change have long caused controversy — pitting fishermen and environmental advocates against farmers and urban areas in need of more water.  I (Monica) spent countless hours working in both the Clinton and Obama Administrations on solutions for the water issues in the Central Valley — attempting to keep salmon and salmon fishers alive while still giving farmers enough water to keep them in business too.  This shrinking pool of water has long been a problem — but the law gives scientists the ultimate say here.  And what the President did completely ignores decades of previous biological opinions drafted with keeping the endangered species from going extinct due to lack of water at key times during the year.  None of this is shocking given that the Secretary of Interior is a former lobbyist for the most powerful farm organization in the state, Westlands Water District.  The Governor of California had been working with all parties on a new compromise, but that is all but dead now according to the Sacramento Bee.

Water Wars Continue in California

According to The Wall Street Journal, farmers in the Central Valley had been upset by Obama Administration restrictions from implemented in 2008 and 2009 that significantly limited the pumping down into the Central Valley a great deal of river water originating in the northern part of the state in order to protect stream flow so that the Delta smelt, various salmon populations, and other species could have the water needed for their survival. And moving the water to the southern part of the state would mean many fish would get caught and killed in a massive set of pumps in the heart of the state that regulate the water flows. Environmental groups, fishers who catch the salmon when they move out to sea, and Native American groups all oppose the President’s changes.

What The President’s Order Got Wrong

According to The Hill, California’s Attorney General, Javier Becerra said that the Trump Administration’s new biological opinions:

  •  ignore “the requirement that a biological opinion must consider not only the continued survival of listed species, but also their recovery;”
  • “didn’t include proper analysis of the effects of water diversion, ” while also “improperly relying on other uncertain factors to argue the fish species would not be harmed;” and
  • and it violated the National Environmental Policy Act “by failing to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to comment” on the diversion.

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