With Trump comes a lot of speculation

February 20, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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Will President Donald Trump give his signatory flourish to the new controversial federal plan for operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta when he visits Bakersfield on Wednesday?

Will he announce full funding to fix the sagging Friant-Kern Canal?

Or will he do a 180 and announce some entirely new policy on oil extraction or endangered species?

With Trump, anything is possible.

What we know “for sure” is he will arrive in Bakersfield Wednesday afternoon and meet with some Central Valley farmers and water managers.

Federal biops

He may also sign the “record of decision” for the new federal biological opinions.

These opinions are used to operate the delta, moving more or less water out of the southern end to farms and cities, in a way that’s supposed to protect threatened and endangered fish populations.

The “biops” as they’re called, employ a number of strategies to increase water pumped south. One of those would use real-time information about fish locations rather than a rigid calendar system to determine pumping levels.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration threatened to sue over the biops almost immediately following their release last fall. But the state has yet to pull the trigger on that lawsuit.

Newsom sent a letter to Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Monday tacitly reminding him that lawsuit is still primed to go.

“Since November, our state and federal agencies have been working to bridge significant differences regarding the proposed federal Biological Opinions…,” Newsom writes. “Our dialogue has generated progress toward an aligned approach that provides appropriate flexibility to move water in certain wet conditions while doing all that is needed to adequately protect imperiled fish. We have not yet fully resolved our differences as federal agencies prepare to take action to activate these new rules.” Newsom letter to David Bernhardt

Sagging canal

Or, Trump could make a major announcement regarding the Friant-Kern Canal.

That’s the canal owned by the Bureau of Reclamation that brings water south from Millerton Lake to farms and cities on the valley’s east side.

Rampant groundwater pumping has caused the canal to sink along a 33-mile stretch, reducing its carrying capacity by 60 percent.

Cost for the repair has been estimated at $400 million.

The Trump administration has already begun the environmental/feasibility study phase leading up to construction.

In fact, it has set a highly aggressive schedule to get all the environmental work done with groundbreaking in 2021.

Funding, though, is a conundrum.

At the federal level, so far, one bill has been introduced by Rep. TJ Cox that would provide $200 million to fix the canal. At the state level, another bill and a proposition that would have paid for a fix both failed.

Perhaps Trump will announce a new funding source to tackle construction.

Wish lists

What else might valley farmers and others interested in water want to see from this president?

  • “Fix the Friant-Kern Canal and expand federal supply projects and programs to address future needs for all uses – including environmental.” — Eric Averett, General Manager of Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District.
  • “If you’re investing public money in water infrastructure – including conservation and reuse infrastructure – the environment should get some percentage of the water yielded from that investment.” — Peter Vorster, hydrogeographer for The Bay Institute.
  • “We need our federal agencies to be less rigid. We need flexibility to survive SGMA.” — Dan Vink, Executive Director of South Valley Water Association.
  • “Look at water as a common, shared resource. It has to be managed to make sure its clean, affordable and drinkable for people, animals and plants in order for us to have a thriving economy. We need our federal, state and local governments to collaborate to create a sustainable direction.” —  Amanda Monaco, Water Policy Coordinator for Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability.
  • “Increase grant funding for the USDA water and sewer projects. The USDA does a good job of getting the money out to small water systems. But they have a lot more loan funding than grants. And these little systems can’t really handle the loans. We’d also like to see discretion and decisions remain in the local offices instead of being centralized in Washington, DC. The strength of USDA is they have have local offices and staffing levels need to be increased.” — Paul Boyer, Director of Self-Help Enterprises, a nonprofit community development group that works with disadvantaged communities on, among other things, maintaining drinking water wells.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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