BAKERSFIELD — President Donald Trump on Wednesday dropped into one of the few regions in California that has embraced his presidency to celebrate new federal rules delivering more water to Central Valley farmers and rolling back protections for fish.
Trump basked in the cheers from 2,000 supporters in an airplane hangar on the outskirts of the agriculture- and oil-focused city represented by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, immediately taking aim at the state’s Democratic leaders in Sacramento.
“What they’re doing to your state is a disgrace,” Trump said. “After decades of failure and delays in ensuring critical water rights for the people of the state, we are determined to finally get your problems solved.”
The official water “record of decision” was signed Wednesday, outlining endangered species rules for California’s main water hub. Central Valley politicians have railed for years against water restrictions intended to help salmon and smelt that inhabit the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and Delta further north.
The issue is red meat for the agriculture-heavy Central Valley and its lawmakers, including McCarthy and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). A day earlier, Nunes hosted a forum in his district highlighting the new rules with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, refusing access to several media outlets, including POLITICO.
After focusing on water Wednesday, Trump rolled through several of his anti-California greatest hits. He called San Francisco “worse than a slum” and said “the federal government’s going to have to step in,” apparently referring to taking action on homelessness.
He then mocked Gov. Gavin Newsom and state officials for fighting his administration on auto emissions rules and high-speed rail. Trump said a car made under his rules “would be safer because it would not be made out of papier-mache.” He also joked that state leaders would eventually shorten the San Francisco to Los Angeles line so much that “pretty soon it’ll be like a mile long,” referring to Newsom’s announcement a year ago that the state would focus on a track running from Merced to Bakersfield.
The president was in Los Angeles on Tuesday to discuss the 2028 Olympics with city officials. Trump is also appearing with Republican members of Congress and attending fundraisers in California this week, though he flew back to Las Vegas last night to stay at his hotel, according to the New York Times.
The Trump administration estimates the new water rules will increase deliveries by 600,000 acre-feet in an average year, about a 10 percent increase over average deliveries of 5 million acre-feet. The rules from the Interior and Commerce departments are intended to meet Endangered Species Act requirements and revise a set of Obama-era protections for endangered salmon and Delta smelt.
The “biological opinions” incorporate more flexible pumping rules that would let managers of the massive set of canals, reservoirs and pumping plants take more water from the Delta by using “real-time management” to only restrict water exports when endangered fish are near the pumps, for example.
The opinions also envision building a hatchery to increase smelt populations and changing rules that require a certain amount of cold water to remain behind Shasta Dam to support salmon downstream in the Sacramento River.
Newsom has yet to follow up on his November threat to sue the Trump administration over the rules. His Department of Water Resources has come out with its own plan for operating the state side of the pumps that still remains to be finalized. Wednesday’s signing of the record of decision opens the way for Newsom and others to sue the Bureau of Reclamation over the plan.
“We will file legal action in the coming days to challenge the federal biological opinions to protect highly imperiled fish species close to extinction,” Newsom said in a statement Wednesday. “Our goal continues to be to realize enforceable voluntary agreements that provide the best immediate protection for Delta species, reliable and safe drinking water, and dependable water sources for our farmers for economic prosperity.”
Some environmental advocates pointed out that Newsom could already have sued the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration over their role, as environmental and fishing groups did in December.
“I can’t explain why the governor has not followed through on his commitment to sue,” said Kate Poole, senior director of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel’s water program.
Though Wednesday’s actions focus largely on water for farms, Trump chided Newsom for state legislation signed before Newsom took office. State lawmakers and former Gov. Jerry Brown in 2018 enacted bills establishing a 50 gallon per person daily standard by 2030.
“I heard the governor say you get 50 gallons. Does 50 gallons sound okay?” Trump said “Fifty gallons is very, very little. Can you imagine a state being rationed when you have millions and millions and millions of gallons being poured out into the Pacific Ocean?”