Energy & Environment

California delivers swift suit after Trump orders water diversion

The state of California sued the White House late Thursday after President Trump ordered the state to reconfigure its water plan, funneling more water from the north to a thirsty agriculture industry and growing population further south.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued the administration violated the law by failing to consider a number of environmental impacts or giving an opportunity for the public to comment. 

“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not destroy it,” Becerra said in a statement. “California won’t silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically-challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways.” 

The suit was filed a little more than 24 hours after Trump signed the order in front of a crowd in Bakersfield, Calif., flanked by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Davin Nunes (R-Calif.).

The move was made possible after Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to redo biological assessments that for decades had blocked water diversion, finding that lower flows would hurt various types of fish.

Critics fear the new plan, which would allow large quantities of water to be diverted from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the Central Valley in order to irrigate farmland, would ultimately harm chinook salmon and the delta smelt, a finger-sized fish that for three decades has stood in the way of the diversion.

On Wednesday, Trump said the changes to the “outdated scientific research and biological opinions” would now help direct “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water for the use of California farmers and ranchers.”

“A major obstacle to providing water for the region’s farmers has now been totally eliminated by the federal government,” he said.

Becerra listed off a host of reasons the new biological opinions from Interior don’t meet legal requirements, including that they ignore “the requirement that a biological opinion must consider not only the continued survival of listed species, but also their recovery.”

The new opinions didn’t include proper analysis of the effects of water diversion, he said, while improperly relying on other uncertain factors to argue the fish species would not be harmed. 

Trump’s order also violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the suit argues, “by failing to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to comment” on the diversion. 

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended the work that went into crafting the new opinions as science-based and warned California about the road ahead.

“The governor and attorney general just launched a ship into a sea of unpredictable administrative and legal challenges regarding the most complex water operations in the country, something they have not chartered before,” he said in a statement.

“Litigation can lead to unpredictable twists and turns that can create significant challenges for the people of California who depend on the sound operation of these two important water projects.”

The suit is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

–Updated at 10:19 a.m.

Tags California Climate change Donald Trump farming Kevin McCarthy Lawsuit Water Xavier Becerra
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