Central Valley delta in the crosshairs of Trump’s water war
DENVER — President Donald Trump has ordered the government to streamline regulations that he says are hindering work on four major water projects in the western United States and specifically targeted the Central Valley Project.
Trump signed a memorandum Friday aimed at the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project in California, the Klamath Irrigation Project in Oregon and the federal Columbia River system in the Pacific Northwest.
The memorandum orders the Interior and Commerce departments to speed up environmental reviews, streamline regulations and come up with a timeline to comply with the regulations.
Trump says his directive will be a big help to the arid West, which relies on federally funded water projects to irrigate crops and supply cities.
Specifically, the memorandum calls for a review of water regulations and “appropriately suspend, revise or rescind the respective regulations that unduly burden” the delivery of water throughout the state, according to the Associated Press.
The order is another in an attempt to bring more water to Valley farmers, who have argued that they, not salmon, the Delta smelt or other endangered species be given priority.
In August, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sent a memo to his aides demanding an action plan to push more water south through the Delta and onto Valley farms.
On Friday, Zinke spun the directive as a positive move for farmers, saying he “cheered President Trump’s memorandum on western water.”
The memorandum directs the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce to work together to deliver western communities the water supplies they need to irrigate millions of acres of farmland and provide water and power to millions of Americans.
“Water is the lifeblood of any thriving economy, and its importance in the West cannot be overstated,” said Secretary Zinke. “We want to use water in the most practical sense, and make sure our water infrastructure is in world class shape for all uses. Working to get our farms the water they need is key to rural prosperity, and I applaud President Trump for making this key issue a top priority of his administration.”
There is widespread recognition that a ‘status quo’ approach to the longstanding imbalances in the supply and demand of water will not be effective, Zinke claimed.
House Republicans also welcomed the news. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Representatives Devin Nunes, David G. Valadao, Jeff Denham, Ken Calvert, Tom McClintock and First District California Congressman Doug LaMalfa said in a joint statement it would be “an immense relief for the farmers and families of the San Joaquin Valley and communities across California.”
“Due to the actions of environmental extremists and overzealous bureaucrats, California has been suffering from a years-long water crisis that has wreaked havoc in Central Valley farming communities that feed tens of millions of Americans,” the joint statement read. “Productive land has gone fallow and farmworkers have lost their jobs. Communities across California have also been devastated as senseless government regulations have mandated that billions of gallons of water be flushed out to the ocean and wasted.”
Meanwhile, Third District Congressman John Garamendi, a Democrat, who represents over 200 miles of the Sacramento valley, was anything but positive.
“President Trump is continuing his attack on the environment and on California’s constitutional right to determine its water policies,” he said in a prepared statement. “Not only is he attacking the multi-million-dollar fishing industry in California, but he’s also attacking the contractual and legal rights of water districts and seems determined to advance the disastrous $20 billion twin tunnels boondoggle. This is nothing but a cynical effort to build support for his endangered political allies in the Central Valley. I’ll defend the Delta against anyone, no matter who it is or which political party they belong to.”
The Memorandum directs the Interior and Commerce Departments to take a number of specific actions, including:
• Expediting regulatory actions essential to the operation of water infrastructure
• Improving the information and modeling capabilities related to water availability
• Expanding use of water desalination and water recycling
• Accelerating and clarifying requirements for compliance with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act
• Removing unnecessary burdens unique to the operation of the Columbia River Basin’s water infrastructure
“For too long, the tail has wagged the dog when it comes to our infrastructure and western water,” said Zinke. “The environmental laws and regulations that have been in place over decades can be implemented in such a way that supports our economy while still enhancing our environment. That challenge is something that motivates President Trump and this leadership team, and we are taking decisive action.”
He also claimed the order will “safeguard the local tourism and recreation economy, the withdrawal also conserves important habitat for migrating big game species like elk and mule deer.” He didn’t refer to endangered species in the Sacramento River system.
The president is traveling in the West. He visited Montana Thursday and is now in Arizona.
The Daily Democrat contributed to this report.