Trump Opens Floodgates In California — Will The State Fight Him Or Be Grateful For The Help?
California’s 55 electoral votes won’t go to President Donald Trump in the 2020 election, but he can expect the state’s farmers support. The White House announced on Oct. 22 it will pump water where it’s vital for human needs rather than hold it back on behalf of the Chinook salmon, which spawn in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system.
In a separate biological opinion, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a day earlier a change in policy on protections for the Delta smelt, a three-inch fish that has become so rare that it’s been called “functionally extinct,” but is still obsessed over by environmental groups.
Farmers need the water, especially with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which, beginning in January, requires them “to gradually rein in the amount of groundwater they can pump from their wells.” It will be another hurdle for them to overcome as they recover from a multi-year man-made drought.
Over the longer term, California farmers have had to live with what was left over after federal officials made sure the Chinook salmon and Delta smelt had plenty of water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Farmers’ boiled-over frustration is why Interstate 5 running through some of the most productive farmland in the world, right down the spine of California, is decorated with signs that complain of a “Congress-created dust bowl” and warn that no water equals no jobs.
The administration’s decision will increase water flow by 300,000 and 500,000 acre-feet a year, “a considerable jump,” says CalMatters, “from the annual average of 4 to 5 million acre-feet.” The bulk of that “newly diverted water” will “flow to San Joaquin Valley farmers.” But they alone won’t benefit. The many mouths they feed should be as grateful as the farmers.
Environmentalist groups of course oppose the plan, and don’t agree with the administration, which says it “will not jeopardize threatened or endangered species or adversely modify their critical habitat.” They are likely to sue to block it.
In the middle is the state. Will it support the green lobby that favors wildlife over man, or will it side with the administration, farmers, and thirsty municipal water systems downstream and see the plan through?
Politico says that “when it comes to water, Trump and California are closer than you might think.” And that might well be true. It recently reported that Gov. Gavin Newsom “shocked environmentalists last month with the speed with which he essentially sided with the president by blocking legislation that could have stopped Trump’s endangered species rollbacks.”
At the same time, the Sacramento Bee wondered if Newsom, who is “in an awkward spot,” will fight Trump over the plan, before subtly indicating that he just might go along, as he’s already shown a willingness to anger environmentalists by vetoing a bill they supported.
It’s easy for opponents to grouse that the plan will put wildlife at risk and threaten the Delta itself. Their livelihoods aren’t at stake. They can afford to take a position that doesn’t cost them anything. That can’t be said for California policymakers, especially those who represent parched agricultural districts. If they don’t support Trump’s plan, they might find themselves voted out of their Sacramento jobs. Politics sometimes demands strange alliances.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.