Interior secretary sets Sept. 1 deadline for new Central Valley water policies

The long-expected showdown between the Trump administration and the state of California over water, farmers and the Central Valley appears to be imminent. On. Aug. 17, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a memorandum declaring his staff had 15 days to draft a plan that would increase water for the region’s agricultural industry by reinterpreting relevant federal policies and laws and by targeting “unacceptable conditions” advocated by the state of California.

Zinke specifically cited the need to “streamline” the process under which the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act are considered and invoked in Central Valley decisions. He wrote that this has prevented long-term changes in federal water decision-making.

Behind the bureaucratic language, it appears the Trump administration is taking dead aim at broad water policies that Central Valley House Republicans like Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes have long said valued the interests of declining fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta over the interests of the region’s farmers, who have made the Central Valley the nation’s agricultural breadbasket.

But even if the Zinke deadline is met and the Interior Department has new water allocation rules and policies in place by the Sept. 1 deadline, quick change seems unlikely. That’s because environmental groups which have fought previous changes sought by the previous Republican presidents, in particular George W. Bush, have long found judges to be sympathetic to their interpretation of the ESA. A significant number of moderate GOP lawmakers also oppose major changes in existing green regulations.

The green coalition contends that the health of salmon and Delta smelt in Central Valley waterways and rivers is a proxy for the health of Northern California’s ecosystem. Greens say that giving more water to farmers by diverting some of the fresh water now pumped into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta could lead to a disaster that affects the whole state – very much including the 19 million residents who deeply rely on water from the rest of the state that’s distributed by the giant Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Trump’s promises to Central Valley farmers during an August 2016 campaign appearance in the region foreshadowed Zinke’s order. But a more specific, recent cause may have been farmers’ complaints about the California State Water Resources Board, which took two days of public testimony last week on its plan to increase water pumped into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta from February to June to shore up endangered salmon.

Farmers, allies also weigh court challenges

Just as environmentalists threaten legal action over how federal decisions affect Central Valley water use, those aligned with farmers vow court fights over the proposed state policy change.

“If they vote to take our water, this does not end there,” state Sen. Anthony Cannella, R-Modesto, told the Associated Press. “We will be in court for 100 years.”

While Trump was nearly doubled up in 2016 California voting by Democrat Hillary Clinton, he ran far better in farm regions. He won easily in the two counties with the state’s largest agricultural economies, taking Kern County by 55 percent to 40 percent and Tulare County by 53 percent to 41 percent.


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  1. Dallas Weaver Ph.D.
    Dallas Weaver Ph.D. 27 August, 2018, 16:58

    All these people are arguing about scientific nonsense. For example, the Biological Opinion on the Delta Smelt is probably pure scientific nonsense.

    If you read the 400+ page biological opinion you find more than you will ever want to know about the delta smelt and their fish predators, the clams, the zooplankton food supply, the water clarity, and human water withdraws from the delta over the time period of the 60’s to near present day. They then did a bunch of correlation analysis between the smelt populations of the withdraws giving the results a scientific patina.

    However, they totally ignored that fact that in the 60’s DDT was a massively used pesticide that what impacting fish-eating bird populations in the delta (Osprey weren’t the only piscivorous birds impacted). As DDT was banned and the product slowly worked its way out of the Delta system, the birds returned and some of these species like cormorants can eat tons per day of delta smelt sized fish in a decent colony like we have in the bay/delta area. By totally excluding birds and population changes, DDT changes (not even mentioned: the beauty of word search), they were p-hacking the results so it wouldn’t have endangered birds eating endangered fish and could point to farmers as the problem. Deep pocket rather than no-pocket answers.

    Whether the scientists who did this were fraudulent or just true believers that natures rebound couldn’t overshoot and crash the smelt populations.

    If you want more answers to verify the above see the following link:
    Three graphs are for the delta smelt populations and the flow rates over time from the opinion PDF. They are correct in seeing the crash of the smelt population, but you can also see that the correlation with the small change in flow will be poor at best. The correlation with the cormorant population would be far better. This whole delta smelt science is more political science than real science, which is why they don’t publish such nonsense in the real scientific journal with real outside reviewers.

    Reply this comment
    • Kajun
      Kajun 14 October, 2018, 11:20

      I ask you this how are you going to keep the salt water out of the Delta, the amount of water that lake Shasta via the Sacramento river and Lake Tahoe via down the San Joaquin River is used to keep flow into the Suisun bay and SF bay then into the ocean thus keeping the salt water in the bays. They regulate the flow through dams to keep the saline level low enough that they can irrigate plants and not kill them

      Reply this comment
  2. Dr. Theodore Steele
    Dr. Theodore Steele 27 August, 2018, 21:43

    Dallas?? Is that you???? Where in the heck did you get YOUR Phd????

    I know where I got mine! P hacked results? DDT? Birds–listen “Dr.”, this blog contains some of the world’s finest Phd level scientists in all aspects of the earth sciences etc—– you’re here with the big boys and girls– please keep your fantastic notions of whacky smelt theories to yourself>>>> Good grief—- Ted

    Reply this comment

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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