Trump wades into California water wars, calls for diverting water to farmers in central valley

Trump wants the administration to move faster on water projects in the West.

October 19, 2018, 8:00 PM

President Donald Trump is wading into California's water wars, demanding speedy action by the federal government to divert much-needed water resources to Republican-leaning farmers in California's central valley — a move sure to infuriate left-leaning environmentalists on the west coast.

Signing a presidential memorandum in Arizona this afternoon, the president set into motion a plan that's expected to benefit farmers who have complained about water restrictions intended to protect endangered fish and other species.

“This is a vital action ... to improve access to water in the American West,” President Trump said, signing the memorandum. “They've taken it away, they have so much water and they don't know what to do with it and they send it out to sea.”

Republicans quickly responded, calling the decision a clear win for communities in the West.

Environmentalists argue that diverting water to farmers will decimate endangered Delta smelt and Chinook Salmon. The president’s action today will speed up the environmental review and approval process needed to create the infrastructure needed to divert the water.

Earlier this year, as 17 fires ravaged California, Trump falsely claimed that the state government was mismanaging water supplies that should be available to fight the infernos, even though firefighters there said access to water was not a problem.

Environmentalists feared at the time that the president was using the wildfires as a smokescreen for wading into a deeply controversial fight between farmers and conservationists.

The memo Trump signed Friday calls on the Interior Department and Commerce Department to speed up infrastructure projects, including water desalination and recycling, and clarify how to manage water while continuing to follow environmental laws and the Endangered Species Act.

“The big problem was the federal approvals that were un-gettable and now they are very gettable and we're going to have them in a very short period of time,” Trump said.

“This will move things along at a record clip, and you have a lot of water, I hope you enjoy the water that you're going to have ... great for the farmers, great for the people, great for recreation,” Trump said.

The president’s action today is sure to anger the local authorities in California, who will see this as federal overreach, but it's also sure to please his political allies in the state with midterms just two-and-a-half weeks away.

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