President Donald Trump visited California’s Central Valley on Feb. 19 to sign legislation that would give the thirsty land some much-needed water. However, critics are saying he is doing more harm than good and accuse the commander in chief of trying to “woo” the state to gain votes for his re-election. The Golden State’s historic five-year drought may have ended in 2018, but that doesn’t mean farmers and citizens are not still feeling the effects, or that something like this won’t happen again.
“Can you imagine the state being rationed when you have millions, and millions, and millions of gallons [of water] being poured out into the Pacific Ocean?” Trump asked an enthusiastic crowd in Bakersfield. “It’s really a catastrophe, wouldn’t you think?” he added. “You have farmers that own land, that are paying taxes on the land, that aren’t allowed to farm the land. They’re actually taking away your land when you think about it.”
Water Diversion Plan
So, why all the fuss? Chinook salmon and other little fish like the delta smelt are headed, many fear, toward extinction thanks to decades of taking water from the ecosystem. To prevent this, water deliveries to farms and cities were cut back.
Trump’s plan, which critics say endanger several fish species, will allow for a large amount of water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the Central Valley to irrigate farmland. For three years, any plans to provide farmers with more water have been thwarted by the finger-sized delta fish. In 2018, the president had the Department of the Interior re-evaluate scientific findings that barred any diversion of water. In October 2019, the Interior produced a new opinion, which limits protections for the fish.
The changes to the “outdated scientific research and biological opinions,” Trump said, would now give the Central Valley “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water for the use of California farmers and ranchers.”
Approximately half of the state’s water flows out under the Golden Gate Bridge to the Pacific Ocean. About 40% goes to agriculture and the rest to cities, according to the Public Policy Institute of California.
The state, however, will likely fight the order. Democrat Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement after the president’s speech that “California will not allow the Trump Administration to destroy and deplete our natural resources. We’re prepared to challenge the Trump Administration’s harmful attack on our state’s critical ecosystems and environment.”
Personal Account from Ground Zero of the Drought
As a reporter in Porterville, which was dubbed Ground Zero during the drought, I have firsthand knowledge of just how badly this area was affected. Farmers ended up leaving their fields and moving away. Children were not going to school because there was no water to bathe. Cancer patients, families, children, the elderly, and everyone else were stuck inside their homes without water for cooking, bathing, brushing teeth, cleaning, etc. In a climate that frequently reaches 115 degrees in the summer, many were without air conditioning since they only had water-cooled systems. Signs were placed on the front doors of homes, warning there was no water. Many in the eastern portion of the city, controlled by the county, had wells go dry or couldn’t afford the thousands of dollars to dig deeper in hopes of finding more water.
Bureaucratic red tape made any help or progress drag. The citizens of this economically poor community came together and developed a pump and water tank system to install in the homes of those without water. The city’s public swimming pool opened its showers so that children could bathe. The state, especially with the help of Congressman Devin Nunes (R) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) (who I worked with numerous times during the crisis), developed a command center that distributed bottled water to families, brought in portable showers, and expanded the pump/tank program. A food bank specifically for drought victims was established.
The human impact was real, but for those who did not experience it, the story was just another news clip. However, understanding that a quarter of the nation’s food is grown in the Valley, as well as 40% of fruits and nuts, should make even the Democrats wake up to the importance of more water for irrigation.
There are plenty of naysayers out there who do not understand the impact a lack of water in the Central Valley can have on not just Californians but the nation as a whole. Here are some facts from the United States Geological Survey website:
- More than 250 different crops are grown in the Central Valley, with an estimated value of $17 billion per year.
- Approximately 75% of the irrigated land in California and 17% of the nation’s irrigated land is in the Central Valley.
- Using less than 1% of U.S. farmland, the Central Valley supplies 8% of U.S. agricultural output (by value) and produces 1/4 of the nation’s food, including 40% of fruits, nuts, and other table foods.
Disgruntled Dems Cry Conflict of Interest – Among Other Things
Critics of Trump’s water initiative claim Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt is acting under a conflict of interest because, in the past, he worked for Westlands Water District, which is one of the organizations pushing to redistribute the water across the Central Valley. Bernhardt was nominated for his current position in April 2017, but, in November 2016, he filed paperwork to end his federal lobbyist status.
The Department of the Interior denied the charge that it changed protections for the fish because of Bernhardt’s previous employer. “There is absolutely no connection,” Paul Souza, a regional Fish and Wildlife Service official, said. “We have led these efforts with our team over the past year and these are career professional documentation.”
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the environmental watchdog group Center for Western Priorities, claims otherwise. “Like so many other of Bernhardt’s orders, this one ignores the best available science. This attempt to harm the largest estuary on the West Coast will get tied up in court for years, and the Trump administration will keep losing until it decides to follow the law.” She added, “President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt are draining the delta while they fill the swamp, and Bernhardt’s clients now have a presidential signature to prove their investment has paid off.”
Leftist Media Dissects Trump’s Words – And Get Them Wrong
During his speech in Bakersfield, the president referred to rationing water among the state’s citizens. He said people were only going to be allowed 50 gallons of water, and that was certainly not enough to complete day-to-day necessities. The Sacramento Bee published a piece that claimed to be fact-checking Trump’s claims, saying the amount was not correct.
However, then Gov. Jerry Brown signed two bills in 2018, after the drought ended, that set water-efficiency standards to be implemented throughout the following years. The law instructs indoor water use to be reduced to 55 gallons per person per day by 2023 and down to 50 gallons by 2030. If water agencies do not meet these requirement goals, they could be hit with a hefty fine of $1,000 per day, or $10,000 per day if it’s during an official drought emergency – which they will pass on to their customers. Something similar to this was already happening in counties throughout the Central Valley during the recent drought.
To put that into perspective, here’s a look at a household’s average water usage:
- An eight-minute shower uses 17 gallons.
- Top-loading washer uses 40-45 gallons.
- Older toilets average 3.6 gallons with a daily use of 18.8 gallons.
- Newer toilets average 1.6 gallons with approximately 9.1 gallons for daily use.
The Bee admitted that Trump’s actions would “allow farmers to keep a greater share of their supplies – about 1 million acre-feet in wet years. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons. If not for Trump’s plan, more water than Folsom Lake can hold would flow out to sea.” The maximum capacity of the lake is 977,000 acre-feet of water.
“After decades of failure and delays in ensuring critical water access for the people of this state, we are determined to finally get your problem solved,” Trump said to a cheering audience.
McCarthy praised the president’s efforts. “Isn’t it great to have a president who understands farming is not easy? Isn’t it great to have a president who keeps his promises?”
Now, if only state politicians would step up.
Read more from Kelli Ballard.