WASHINGTON, D.C. – Hoisting the spoils of victories in California’s hard-fought water wars, President Donald Trump is directing more of the state’s precious water to wealthy farmers and other agriculture interests when he visits their Republican Central Valley stronghold Wednesday.
Changes by the Trump administration are altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output. Climate change promises to only worsen the state's droughts and water shortages, raising the stakes.
Campaigning in the Central Valley farm hub of Fresno in 2016, Trump pledged then he’d be “opening up the water” for farmers. Candidate Trump denounced “insane” environmental rules meant to ensure that enough fresh water stayed in rivers and the San Francisco Bay to sustain more than a dozen endangered fish and other native species, which are struggling as agriculture and development diverts more water and land from wildlife.
Visiting Bakersfield in the Central Valley on Wednesday, Trump is expected to ceremoniously sign his administration’s reworking of those environmental rules. Environmental advocates and the state say the changes will allow federal authorities to pump more water from California's wetter north southward to its biggest cities and farms.
The Trump administration, Republican lawmakers, and farm and water agencies say the changes will allow for more flexibility in water deliveries. In California's heavily engineered water system, giant state and federal water projects made up of hundreds of miles of pipes, canals, pumps and dams, carry runoff from rain and Sierra Nevada snow melt from north to south — and serve as field of battle for lawsuits and regional political fights over competing demands for water.
Environmental groups say the changes will speed the disappearance of endangered winter-run salmon and other native fish, and make life tougher for whales and other creatures in the San Francisco Bay and Pacific Ocean.
After an initial study by federal scientists found the rule changes would harm salmon and whales, the Trump administration ordered a new round of review, California news organizations reported last year.
The overall effort “ensured the highest quality" of evaluation of the rule changes, Paul Souza, Pacific Southwest director for the Fish and Wildlife Service, which is under the Interior Department, said in a statement Tuesday.