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President Donald Trump ceremoniously signs new water regulation rules for the Central Valley

Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-19 20:09:04-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — "God bless the American farmer, God bless America," said President Donald Trump as he concluded his 40-minute address to local farmers Wednesday.

The president ceremoniously signed his administration's new rules altering how federal authorities decide who gets water, and how much, in California, the U.S. state with the biggest population and economy and most lucrative farm output.

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"From now on it's your land, it's not their land," Trump told the crowd.

Back in October 2019, the Trump administration unveiled new rules to govern California’s scarce water, committing to send more to farmers in the Central Valley despite warnings from environmental groups that it would imperil endangered species in the fragile San Joaquin Delta, the Associated Press reported.

These rules became known as the the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. These projects both looked to provide water to more than 25 million Californians and millions of acres of farmland.

Kevin McCarthy responds to President Donald Trump's speech in Bakersfield

"It was an honor to have President Donald J. Trump visit Bakersfield," said Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove. "By keeping his word to farmers, President Trump has shown his commitment to securing a safe and reliable food supply for American families."

The new rules change how much water is stored in the reservoir to prevent it from running out of cold water. Ernest Conant, regional director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, said the new rules will result in more cold water storage than under the current rules.

The plan would give water agencies more flexibility on how much water they can pump out of the state’s rivers. When it’s raining a lot, agencies can pump more. When it’s dry, less would be pumped.

“One of the necessities for the long-term success and economic health of the Central Valley is having a safe, reliable and adequate water supply for our communities, farmers, ranchers and families. Because of the leadership and actions of President Trump and Congressman McCarthy, we have the opportunity to get more water using adaptive management and the best science," said local Republican Assemblyman Vince Fong, in response to the president's new rules.

"We now need Governor Newsom to follow suit and also provide needed water supplies for our state water projects including the Central Valley—both the state and feds must do their parts to ensure California is fundamentally strong and that we can continue to grow and feed not only California but our nation and the world," Fong said.

Trump Signs Presidential Memorandum
President Trump signing of a Presidential Memorandum supporting more water development and delivery in California.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt joined President Donald Trump on stage Wednesday. He said the president’s action furthers his commitment to America’s hardworking farmers who need water to feed our nation.

"President Trump gave the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce clear direction to move forward and provide water to California’s communities and farms,” Bernhardt said.

"President Trump told us to make water in the west more reliable, and the Bureau of Reclamation is doing just that," said Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Presidential signing of Presidential Memorandum
Presidential signing of Presidential Memorandum supporting more water development and delivery in California.

The Trump administration declared that pumping more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to supply farms will not jeopardize the endangered salmon and smelt that live in the estuary.

On Wednesday, President Trump said since he took office the Department of Agriculture has committed $6.1 billion to improve rural water infrastructure.

California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said that this action will add much-needed flexibility to operation of the federal Central Valley Project and State Water Project. He also thanked the president for signing a memo directing federal agencies to coordinate efforts to store more water, offer regulatory certainty and improve protection of protected species.

“Farmers are optimists and this is a day for optimism,” Johansson said. “The federal agencies have taken a holistic look at the California water system and offered an alternative that promises to improve the health of the environment without devastating people whose communities and livelihoods depend on reliable water supplies.

The regulations, known as biological opinions, replace similar regulations under the Endangered Species Act that are more than 10 years old and no longer meet the needs of California. The new biological opinions rely on scientific studies completed over the past decade to improve the water supplies Kern County receives from the SWP and to provide better protection for fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta).

The biological opinions represent the most important and forward-thinking regulation of California’s water supply and its environment in more than 25 years. “With these biological opinions in place Kern County will have a better water supply, California’s Delta will be better able to support native fish populations and future regulations will put science first and reward creative new thinking,” said Kern County Water Agency Board of Directors President Royce Fast.

Experts said this report will likely result in between 300,000 and 500,000 acre-feet more water removed from the Delta each year via pumping stations near Tracy, according to CalMatters.org. Most of the newly diverted water would flow to San Joaquin Valley farmers.

The Newsom administration said it would sue the federal government over those rules, but so far it has not done so.

Earlier this month, Governor Gavin Newsom revealed a plan that would keep more water in the fragile San Joaquin River Delta while restoring 60,000 acres of habitat for endangered species and generating more than $5 billion in new funding for environmental improvements.

Wade Crowfoot, secretary for the California Natural Resources Agency, said the state is still negotiating with the federal government and can still file a lawsuit if their concerns are not addressed.