The Corner

Energy & Environment

The Trump Obsession Comes for California’s Water

President Donald Trump, signs a presidential memorandum focused on water policy in California’s Central Valley, in Scottsdale, Ariz,, October 19, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Tomorrow, the Golden State’s Democrat-run, veto-proof legislature returns from its summer break and is expected to quickly take up S.B. 1, the “California Environmental, Public Health, and Workers Defense Act of 2019.” It has been proposed for one reason: Donald Trump is president. Under his administration, long-standing EPA regulations and analyses, and bureaucratic (state and federal) actions, related to water have been rethought, reviewed, and relaxed. Which comes to the progressive Left as a threat: All that water-denying is now at risk. 

Hence the bill.

Its consequence will be to preempt any possible forthcoming federal regulations that would result in people and farms (instead of, seriously, the Pacific Ocean) getting more, already available water. That might even be its purpose: For years, California’s bureaucrats, who are even more radical than Obama-era natural-resources federal regulators were, have shown great determination to deny the flow of fresh water from mountain snowpacks, watersheds, and reservoirs to the famous the Central Valley, which, when supplied H2O, puts fruits and vegetables on the world’s tables.

Whether or not the condition is drought in California, there is water to be had, from a system that (despite billions allocated in voter-approved bonding to update a system desperately in need of updating and new infrastructure) centers largely on fresh water flowing from the mountains into the massive Delta situated East of San Francisco. In years past, enough of the Delta’s accumulated fresh water was pumped and piped south, to the dependent, rain-scarce Valley, where farmers — or, in the jargon of the Left, “billionaire farmers” — grow your tomatoes, celery, almonds, pears, peaches . . . you name it. 

Now, rather than allow that pumping — because the pumps kill a threatened fish, the infamous Delta smelt (the farmers’ offer to hatch and repopulate the fish in the Delta is met with a bureaucratic no) — billions of gallons of fresh water instead flow from the Delta west, much of its passing under the Golden Gate Bridge on its way into the Pacific Ocean.

In other words, a tiny fish trumps America’s food needs and the economy of the Central Valley. No water or restricted water means much farmland goes unplanted and unplowed, which in turn means thousands of jobs (remember once upon a time when the fruit pickers were revered by liberal Democrats?) dry up. Literally.

(Recommended reading: Two excellent pieces that explain just what’s going on are Victor Davis Hanson’s City Journal essay “California’s Water Wars,” and Charlie Cooke’s NR report, subtitled “For the sake of a smelt, California farmlands lie fallow.”)

Back to the bill. Here is essential lingo from it:

Beginning in 2017, a new presidential administration and United States Congress have signaled a series of direct challenges to these federal laws and the protections they provide, as well as to the underlying science that makes these protections necessary, and to the rights of the states to protect their own environment, natural resources, and public health and safety as they see fit. . . .

It is therefore necessary for the Legislature to enact legislation that will ensure continued protections for the environment, natural resources, and public health and safety in the state even if the federal laws specified in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) are undermined, amended, or repealed. . . .

The purposes of this division are to do all of the following:

(a) Retain protections afforded under the federal laws specified in paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 120010 and regulations implementing those federal laws in existence as of January 19, 2017, regardless of actions taken at the federal level.

Yes, it must always be the Obama presidency. Hoping to contain some of the expected legislative damage is the California Water Alliance, which has been urging voters to understand the legislation’s impact and convey their concern to the Sacramento legislators. CWA’s argument, boiled down, is this:

Future permits would be subject to outdated science and ineffective federal baseline measures, thus permanently constraining the coordinated operations of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

SB1 will hurt disadvantaged communities throughout California with inconsistent state and federal regulations. This bill will compromise access to drinking water and limit economic prosperity. The California Water Alliance knows it has to do something about SB1 by engaging voters and demanding that Sacramento politicians Fix or Nix SB1.

Nixing is not expected, given who runs the show. The bill was not given No. “1” status by coincidence. Still, the California Chamber of Commerce is lobbying against the job-killer legislation, and says S.B. 1 

creates significant regulatory uncertainty and litigation risks to regulated entities by giving certain state agencies unfettered authority to adopt rules and regulations without any of the Administrative Procedure Act safeguards when the agency, in its discretion, determines that the federal rules and regulations in effect on January 19, 2017 are “less protective” than existing federal law. It also undermines current state efforts to utilize science-based decision-making to manage and provide reliable water supplies for California and protect, restore, and enhance the ecosystems of the Bay-Delta and its tributaries. It further increases the potential for costly litigation by creating new private rights of action under California law.

While Democrats turn their Trump obsession to water denial, CWA recommends a comprehensive approach to the state’s H2O problems — three steps that are central to fixing it given the science and needs, but far-fetched given the power of progressive ideology that governs the Golden State:

1. The state and federal governments create more storage facilities to capture excess water during wet years;

2. Governments take advantage of the flexibility of regulatory guidelines to free up more water for farmers and city dwellers in Southern California;

3. A review of the Endangered Species Act is conducted to scientifically determine whether existing water-management practices are actually helping fish, which may be endangered due to such other factors as predatory fish and other issues unrelated to water

Imagine prioritizing families and farms and the produce sections of American supermarkets over a fish?!


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