Energy & Environment

Trump attacks California over water, fire management

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President Trump on Tuesday volleyed a number of attacks at California over the state’s water practices and fire management, going so far as to threaten withholding future federal aid.

Speaking at an address to the White House State Leadership Day Conference, Trump warned California to “get on the ball” with how it manages its forests and regulates water releases from its dams, insinuating that both practices are responsible for a number of the state’s devastating forest fires.

“They have lousy management,” Trump said.

“This is a seriously defective thing there. I thought they had a drought. I didn’t realize. They said ‘no, we have so much water we don’t know what to do with it.’ Then you have all the forest fires. We have so much water they could actually water some of it.”

As of Tuesday, about 48 percent of California’s land — where about 63 percent of the state’s population lives — was experiencing drought, according to the federal government’s National Integrated Drought Information System.{mosads}

Trump additionally threatened to withhold federal aid from the state as a result of future fires.

“We’re tired of giving California hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars all the time for their forest fires when you wouldn’t have them if they manage their forests properly,” he said.

While Trump’s comments aimed to connect the dots between California’s ongoing water debate, calls to thin forests for lumber and deadly forest fires, experts have routinely debunked the connections.

Fire chiefs said that dry conditions, warm temperatures and strong winds were primarily responsible for recent extreme fires in the Golden State — not a lack of water supply.

“We have plenty of water,” Cal Fire Deputy Chief Scott McLean said earlier this year after Trump linked the state’s water management to the fires. “We can pretty much get water out of streams, creeks, ponds, rivers, lakes.”

Nevertheless, Trump has routinely promoted the idea that the wildfires, which many attribute to climate change, are due to forests that must be thinned and dams whose water must be redistributed. Back in August Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, along with Department of Agriculture head Sonny Perdue, made a trip to California, where they promoted the need for increased logging as a way to manage fires.

“There are years’ worth of dead logs, overgrown shrubs and snags, which many firefighters call ‘widow makers’ because they are so deadly,” Zinke wrote in a USA Today piece that coincided with the trip. “The buildup of fuels is the condition we can and must reverse through active forest management like prescribed burns, mechanical thinning and timber harvests.”

The duo faced backlash from environmentalists who said that the concept of forest management was false and instead a thinly veiled guise to benefit the logging industry.

Last week Trump signed a presidential memorandum to promote the “reliable supply” of water in the West. The order directed the Interior and Commerce secretaries to identify and oversee major water infrastructure projects in California in which they could have reasonable jurisdiction under the Endangered Species Act so they could speed up environmental reviews and streamline regulations.

Interior Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt called the memorandum, in a call to reporters Friday, the “most significant action taken by a president on western water issues in my lifetime.”

The debate at the heart of Trump’s comments rages over the designation of waters from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in California’s Central Valley. The water is pumped to 25 million people in Southern California and the Bay Area a well as 3 million acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.

But an endangered fish species whose numbers environmentalists say are getting worse called the Delta smelt also resides in the waters, and scientists argue the best way to save it is by letting the water flow directly to the Pacific Ocean.

Trump’s memorandum was hailed by a number of Republican leaders in California’s farm-heavy Central Valley, including Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif), a longtime Trump supporter who first told him of the battle between environmentalists and farmers over the future of water in the state during Trump’s presidential campaign.

“I saw it on the campaign trail and I saw it numerous times when I was out in that area. I look at these incredible, beautiful fields, and they’re dry, like dry as a bone,” Trump said Tuesday of his previous visit to the region.

“I said ‘you must have a tremendous drought going on.’ They said ‘no, we have so much water we don’t know what to do with it. But they don’t let the water come down to us. It naturally flows to us. They won’t let it. They send it out into the Pacific Ocean. Millions and millions and millions of gallons. We have the greatest farmland anywhere in the world, but they won’t give us water.’ ”

Tags Devin Nunes Donald Trump Ryan Zinke Sonny Perdue
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