News Feature | August 8, 2018

Amid Wildfires, Trump Weighs In On Water Policy

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,
@sarmje

Amid Wildfires, Trump Weighs In On Water Policy

President Donald Trump took to Twitter in recent days to discuss water policy in a series of posts about California wildfires.

He tweeted: “Governor Jerry Brown must allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else. Think of California with plenty of Water - Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals.”

He later added: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!”

A spokesman for California Governor Jerry Brown told The New York Times: “Your guess is as good as mine” as to why the president stated that water is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.

Policy experts have been analyzing the tweets for clues on what the president’s words might mean for water pros.

“When President Trump sent his first tweet about the current California wildfires, which have killed nine people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, he chose the moment to zero in on water policy — leaving some scratching their heads,” The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“State officials and firefighting experts dismissed the president’s comments,” The New York Times reported.

Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency, weighed in by way of The New York Times.

“We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” Berlant stated.

Berlant and others analyzed what the president might be referencing.

They stated that “Mr. Trump appeared to be referring to a perennial and unrelated water dispute in California between farmers and environmentalists. Farmers have long argued for more water to be allocated to irrigating crops, while environmentalists counter that the state’s rivers would suffer and fish stocks would die,” The New York Times reported.

LeRoy Westerling, a UC Merced professor specializing in wildfire and climatology, discussed the statements with The Chronicle.

“On the water side, it boggles the mind. We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending,” he said.

“Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change,” he continued.

The New Republic stated that the tweets are “baffling experts.”

“There is an ongoing debate about the merits of ‘thinning’ forests to reduce wildfires, but a lack of available water? That’s not a common complaint of wildfire experts, who instead point to extreme drought and heat, human development in vulnerable areas, and an outdated federal funding system for firefighting,” the article stated.

[Update: ABC News reported, "The Department of Commerce announced a directive on Wednesday that says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking over management of water in California in areas affected by the ongoing fires."]

Image credit: "20140917-FS-UNK-0015," U.S. Department of Agriculture © 2014, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/