Energy & Environment

Court sides with California, blocking Trump’s water diversion

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A judge on Monday temporarily blocked a plan President Trump announced with great fanfare that diverted much of California’s water to a growing agriculture industry in the southern part or the state.

Trump visited California in late February to announce he was ordering the state to reconfigure its water plan, a ceremonial order possible only after the Department of the Interior reversed its opinion on scientific findings that for a decade extended endangered species protections to various types of fish.

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.).  

California sued a little more than 24 hours later.

The decision from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California grants a preliminary injunction in the case.

“We applaud the court for hitting pause on the Trump Administration’s reckless attempt to expand water export operations at the expense of California’s wildlife and habitats,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D). “Today’s victory is critical, but the fight is not over. We have the facts, science, and the law behind us, and we look forward to making our case in court.”

The White House did not respond to request for comment. 

Trump had ordered the review of biological opinions that extended protections to the delta smelt and chinook salmon, two fish in need of cooler waters that for three decades have stood in the way of diverting water from the San Francisco Bay Delta to the Central Valley further south.

Trump in his February speech announcing his order said the changes to the “outdated scientific research and biological opinions” would now help direct “as much water as possible, which will be a magnificent amount, a massive amount of water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,” Trump said.

The decision was widely opposed by environmentalists, who said the Trump administration was playing politics with science.

But it also raised questions about Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who once worked for Westlands Water District, one of the groups pushing to expand water access for central California’s agriculture industry.

Reporting from The New York Times found that Bernhardt continued to work for Westlands as late as April 2017, the month he was nominated to his previous role as deputy secretary of the department. He filed paperwork to end his status as a federal lobbyist in November 2016.

Interior said Bernhardt had “engaged in various legal services” to support Westlands — but not lobbying.

Tags California Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Water Xavier Becerra
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