President Donald Trump stopped by Bakersfield, California and, at a ceremony attended by California Republican lawmakers and Interior Secretary Bernhardt, proved that he, unlike Mike Bloomberg and, indeed, California Democrats, he understands the problems of farmers. According to The Hill:
“President Trump on Wednesday signed an order in California to re-engineer the state’s water plans, completing a campaign promise to funnel water from the north to a thirsty agriculture industry and growing population further south. The ceremonial order comes after the Department of the Interior late last year reversed its opinion on scientific findings that for a decade extended endangered species protections to various types of fish — a review that had been spurred by the order from Trump.”
The controversy began over a decade ago when a federal judge ordered water that flows through the Central Valley of California to be diverted from farms to the habitat of a two-inch fish called the Delta Smelt. The idea was that the diverted fresh water was needed to assure that the endangered fish would not become extinct.
The decision, made on the behalf of the Endangered Species Act, devastated the economy of the Central Valley, causing hundreds of thousands of square miles of farmland to be taken out of production and hiking local unemployment to the range of 40 percent. Attempts by congressional Republicans to reverse the decision by legislation were blocked by Democrats and the threat of a veto by President Barack Obama.
One of the campaign promises Donald Trump made as a candidate was to revisit the decision. He ordered the Interior Department to reevaluate the science that was involved in the original diversion. Last Fall, Interior issued a report that concluded that water could be rediverted to the Central Valley farms and water parched California cities without excessive harm to fish like the Delta Smelt.
Naturally, the state government of California, which has not been entirely sympathetic to the politically conservative residents of the Central Valley, is not happy. California Governor Gavin Newsome has threatened to take the Trump Administration to court to, as he put it, “to protect highly imperiled fish species close to extinction” according to the Sacramento Bee. The lawsuit would end efforts by the Trump administration and Newsome to find some sort of compromise that would satisfy farmers and environmentalists.
Environmentalists are not happy either. According to the Sacramento Bee, they feel that the decision may doom endangered fish such as the Delta Smelt/
“Environmentalists say the Delta pumps are so powerful that they can alter the natural water flows in the estuary, diverting migratory fish toward predators and the pumps themselves. They argue that additional pumping will put more pressure on endangered species such as Delta smelt and Chinook salmon, whose populations have dwindled in recent years.”
Secretary Bernhardt is pleased to disagree with the environmentalists and Newsome. He has stated that modern technology and water management techniques will be able to satisfy the water needs of farmers and California’s major cities and preserve the endangered fish. More water will be pumped during wet seasons and less when the weather is arider.
The controversy is far from over. Indeed, fights over water rights have raged through California for almost a century, since the supply of water often is less than the demand. It is possible, some pundits suggest, that a final compromise between Newsome and Trump will be reached. However, environmental groups are still likely to pursue court actions no matter what Sacramento and Washington agree to.
In the meantime, Central Valley farmers could not be happier about President Trump’s executive order. With some having contemplated selling their land if Trump had not been elected, farmers are looking forward to having enough water to start growing crops again.
President Trump was especially ebullient when he announced the executive order to an audience of farmers and local officials. “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.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who would become Speaker of the House if the Republicans take over the House this year, praised Trump as a man who understands the problems of farmers and as a president who keeps his promises. No doubt Trump and House Republicans hope that these qualities will be remembered in November.