Trump rewrites rules on Delta wa­ter ship­ments

Lodi News-Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Dale Kasler

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion rolled out an ag­gres­sive plan Tues­day to ship more wa­ter from the Delta to farm­ers in the San Joaquin Val­ley, a move that’s cer­tain to trig­ger law­suits by en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists con­cerned about en­dan­gered fish species.

The move, ful­fill­ing vows Trump made as a can­di­date and as pres­i­dent, po­ten­tially sets up an­other con­fronta­tion with Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials. State of­fi­cials have pre­vi­ously warned that Trump’s plan would hurt the fish that ply the Delta — and force the state to cut back its own wa­ter de­liv­er­ies through the Delta to make up for the feds’ ac­tions.

Gov. Gavin New­som’s ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to of­fer an im­me­di­ate judg­ment on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan. Lisa Lien-Mager, a spokes­woman for the Cal­i­for­nia Nat­u­ral Re­sources Agency, said: “We will eval­u­ate the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s pro­posal, but will con­tinue to push back if it does not re­flect our val­ues.”

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said their plan was fi­nal­ized only af­ter months of talks with state of­fi­cials.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan con­sists of hun­dreds of pages of tech­ni­cal “bi­o­log­i­cal opin­ions” from sci­en­tists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice and Na­tional Marine Fish­eries Ser­vice that will serve as a blue­print for how wa­ter will be fun­neled through the Sacra­mento-San Joaquin Delta — and how much will be pumped south to Val­ley farm­ers. The new rules wouldn’t take ef­fect un­til Jan­uary at the ear­li­est.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion in­sisted its plan, while de­signed to de­liver more wa­ter to the Val­ley, will pro­tect Delta smelt, Chi­nook salmon and other fish that are listed un­der the En­dan­gered Species Act.

The plan “will not jeop­ar­dize threat­ened or en­dan­gered species or ad­versely mod­ify their crit­i­cal habi­tat,” the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced.

Un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, which has been in place for a decade, the state and fed­eral pump­ing sta­tions in the south Delta some­times have to be shut off to safe­guard fish, al­low­ing wa­ter to run out to sea. Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials said the ex­ist­ing rules rely on rigid and out­dated sci­en­tific stan­dards that limit pump­ing op­er­a­tions with­out really help­ing fish, whose num­bers have de­clined dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said they can’t es­ti­mate how much ad­di­tional wa­ter their plan will gen­er­ate for south-ofDelta wa­ter agen­cies. But they promised to strike a bal­ance be­tween hu­man and en­vi­ron­men­tal needs.

“We have a plan that is much bet­ter for fish, farms and com­mu­ni­ties,” said Ernest Co­nant, re­gional direc­tor of the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, which runs the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Delta pump­ing sta­tions near Tracy.

Among other things, the fish­eries agen­cies al­ready “have boats on the wa­ter sev­eral times a week” to make sure nearly-ex­tinct smelt and other fish aren’t in harm’s way, said Paul Souza, re­gional direc­tor of the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice. The plan also lays out a strat­egy for stor­ing more cold wa­ter in Shasta Lake, which will help the salmon pop­u­la­tion as it’s re­leased into the Sacra­mento River.

Trump’s plan calls for an es­ti­mated $1.5 bil­lion for habi­tat restora­tion projects, en­hanced fish hatch­eries and other pro­grams to prop up fish pop­u­la­tions. Co­nant said fund­ing would come from the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments in roughly equal amounts.

Crit­ics in the en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mu­nity, how­ever, said fish pop­u­la­tions will suf­fer even more as ad­di­tional wa­ter is moved south and fish get sucked into the pumps.

“It looks like this ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to shut us down again — per­ma­nently,” said John Mc­Manus, pres­i­dent of the Golden State Salmon As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents com­mer­cial and recre­ational fish­er­men. De­fend­ers of Wildlife said it plans to take the ad­min­is­tra­tion to court to block the de­ci­sion.

In Au­gust, The Sacra­mento Bee and other me­dia out­lets re­ported that af­ter fed­eral sci­en­tists con­cluded that the plan would bring the salmon closer to ex­tinc­tion, their su­pe­ri­ors or­dered them to redo their study to down­play the im­pact on fish.

But fed­eral of­fi­cials re­jected any sug­ges­tions Tues­day that the fi­nal ver­sion re­flected pres­sure from above. Souza said the plan was the work of “ca­reer con­ser­va­tion pro­fes­sion­als.”

The re­lease of the bi­o­log­i­cal opin­ions could put Gov. Gavin New­som in an awk­ward spot. His ad­min­is­tra­tion has shown dis­dain for prac­ti­cally ev­ery Trump ini­tia­tive, and pledged orig­i­nally to fight Trump’s Delta plan, say­ing the state’s “com­mit­ment to en­vi­ron­men­tal val­ues is un­sur­passed.”

The Delta plan cre­ates other po­ten­tial headaches for the state. The State Wa­ter Pro­ject and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Cen­tral Val­ley Pro­ject both move wa­ter through the Delta to their re­spec­tive cus­tomers — mainly Val­ley farm­ers for the feds and mil­lions of ur­ban South­ern Cal­i­for­ni­ans for the state. If the feds push more wa­ter through the pumps, the state could have to leave more wa­ter in the Delta to com­ply with state en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, mean­ing there would be less wa­ter avail­able for the State Wa­ter Pro­ject.

Yet it wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear whether New­som would try to kill the Trump plan. The Demo­cratic gover­nor has tried to forge com­pro­mises with Val­ley farm­ers on wa­ter is­sues. In Septem­ber he in­fu­ri­ated en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists by ve­to­ing SB 1, a bill de­signed to negate ev­ery en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­icy pro­posed by Trump. His rea­son­ing: SB 1 was so rigid that it would have killed a del­i­cate truce be­tween en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists and agri­cul­ture on re­al­lo­cat­ing the state’s ma­jor rivers.

Trump has been adamant about his de­sire to help the Val­ley, a Re­pub­li­can strong­hold that is chron­i­cally scram­bling for wa­ter. His In­te­rior sec­re­tary, David Bern­hardt, is a former lob­by­ist for West­lands Wa­ter District — the Val­ley’s largest agri­cul­tural wa­ter user.

Just about a year ago, he signed a pres­i­den­tial mem­o­ran­dum di­rect­ing agen­cies to speed up their re­view of rules gov­ern­ing the move­ment of wa­ter through­out Cal­i­for­nia.

“I hope you’ll en­joy the wa­ter you have,” he told a group of Re­pub­li­can Val­ley con­gress­men as he signed the mem­o­ran­dum.

Dur­ing his 2016 cam­paign ap­pear­ance in Fresno, he be­lit­tled en­vi­ron­men­tal rules that “pro­tect a cer­tain kind of 3-inch fish,” a ref­er­ence to the nearly-ex­tinct fish.

ALLEN J. SCHABEN/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

Alex Bo­hardt, se­nior aquar­ist at the Aquar­ium of the Pa­cific, trans­fers a net con­tain­ing a por­tion of 1,200 fed­er­ally en­dan­gered Delta smelt that were hatched at the UC Davis Fish Con­ser­va­tion & Cul­ture Lab, to a hold­ing tank at the Aquar­ium of the Pa­cific in Long Beach on April 10.

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