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Trump’s California Water Relief

10/20/18
from The Wall Street Journal,
10/19/18:

A much-needed review to allow more storage and less waste.

Donald Trump ran as a champion of the forgotten man, and few have been forgotten more by the political class than California’s parched farmers. On Friday the President made good on a campaign promise to deliver more water to more people.

These restrictions are intended to prevent smelt from getting ensnared in the pumps and to maintain a pH balance suitable for fish. Nonetheless fish populations have continued to decline, which some biologists attribute to predatory species like the striped bass and wastewater.

California has an arid climate in the best of times. Yet tens of billions of gallons of water each year are wasted because of restrictions on pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that are intended to protect fish including smelt and chinook salmon. One problem is that California lacks storage capacity in the north to capture the abundant precipitation that falls in the mountains during wet years, such as 2017. Runoff then rushes into rivers that dump into the delta rather than flowing south or into reservoirs for storage for the dry years. The other major problem is federal regulations, known as biological opinions, that limit the rate at which water in the delta can be pumped to the south of the state.

In 2010 federal Judge Oliver Wanger scored the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for “sloppy science and unidirectional prescriptions that ignore California’s water needs.” The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely concurred with Judge Wanger’s assessment but concluded that pumping restrictions were necessary to “counteract the uncertainties” of the government’s analysis. Enter President Trump, who has ordered the Departments of Commerce and Interior by 2019 to review their sloppy science and revise the fish biological opinions. His Friday executive order also directs the agencies to streamline regulatory reviews for western water projects. The President’s reprieve couldn’t come at a better time since California regulators this summer proposed again to sharply restrict water deliveries to farms. The state also enacted legislation making water rationing limits permanent. These include limiting indoor use to 55 gallons per day per person and restrictive rules for farm water management. Most Californians may not like President Trump, but his water decision is another case in which his willingness to challenge political shibboleths will help average people.

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