Why is the Governor Seeking Harmful Water Diversions while Challenging Trump's?

Mar 25, 2020

In a new lawsuit, Governor Newsom is pushing back against a water grab by the Trump administration. But at the same time, Newsom’s agencies are working to enact eerily similar moves at the state level.

It all goes back to how California’s precious fresh water supply is allocated. 

In a typical year, more than half of the fresh water headed for San Francisco Bay never gets here—instead, it’s diverted to industrial agricultural operations and cities across the state.  This unsustainable practice has pushed the Bay and Delta to the brink of collapse. 

San Francisco Bay is an estuary, meaning that its health depends on the mixing of ocean water with fresh water from the Bay's watershed.

Anemic flows already wreak havoc on this estuary, affecting both people and wildlife. You can see the result of misguided water management in the near extinction of native fish species, decimated commercial and sportfishing industries, the proliferation of harmful algae blooms, arsenic in drinking water, and a build-up of pollutants in the freshwater flows into the Bay.

To make the situation worse, President Trump announced an aggressive plan last year to cater to major political donors in the Central Valley and give even more of the Bay’s water to Big Ag. 

To get this done, the federal government first had to meet the Endangered Species Act requirement to issue a report—called a “biological opinion”—which analyzed the effects of increased diversions on the Bay's endangered fishes. It would also need federal fish and wildlife agencies to issue permits that would allow the new water diversion plans to kill some of these endangered species.

When federal scientists finished the first round of biological opinions, they correctly concluded that removing additional water from the Bay ecosystem would jeopardize the existence of endangered populations of our native Chinook salmon. These extinctions would have a deadly ripple effect throughout the Bay-Delta and the Pacific Ocean for other animals, like orcas, which depend on these fish for food. 

Not liking this conclusion, Trump and his Secretary of the Interior—former lobbyist for California’s industrial ag industry, David Bernhardt—replaced those scientists with bureaucrats who reversed the conclusions of the original study. Forsaking scientific evidence and common sense, the new biological opinions claimed that taking more water out of our rivers would have no negative effect on endangered fish. 

It was this document that President Trump recently endorsed, giving his blessing to an extinction plan that would have disastrous implications not just for fish, but for the entire Bay estuary and all the people who rely on it. 

After a three-month delay, California joined conservation organizations in a legal challenge against the federal biological opinions—as it should. But while Governor Newsom is contesting the water grab taking place at the federal level, his agencies are proposing plans that would undo safeguards at the state level.

Newsom’s proposal for pumping water out of the San Francisco Bay watershed looks remarkably similar to Trump’s -- more water will be diverted from the Bay and more fish will be killed. In addition, under the governor’s new water framework, water quality standards will be weakened. Newsom has also delayed updating long overdue rules that would result in more flow into the Bay. 

Why is the governor seeking harmful water diversions while challenging Trump's?  We’re asking him that same question.

We know Trump will ignore basic science, environmental laws, and the integrity of California’s water supply, especially if it benefits his donors. But Newsom—a proud Californian and self-proclaimed environmentalist—must do better. The Bay’s endangered fish, water quality, and once-productive fisheries hang in the balance.

Photo of a reservoir in the San Joaquin Valley by Robb Most, thanks to LightHawk Conservation Flying.

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