The Trump administration is diving into California’s “water wars” on behalf of embattled Republicans and agricultural interests weeks before the November midterm elections.
The president signed a memo on Friday directing agencies to review and revise or rescind environmental standards that conservatives argue are keeping water from flowing to farmers in the Central Valley. He is also setting deadlines for biological assessments of regional projects.
Trump signed the memo in Arizona alongside the California Republican Jeff Denham, who is in a tight race as the GOP tries to hang on to control of the House, according to Politico.
Any changes may not do much in the short term to increase water supplies to the region, but offer a political win for the state’s Republicans, less than three weeks away from the elections on November 6.
The state has plans to restrict water draws from cities and farms to restore the flows in rivers that feed the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta. Some species have been plummeting as less water makes it downstream. Conditions are expected to worsen with man-made climate change.
Environmental advocates who had not yet seen the details of the announcement said speeding up reviews would rush processes meant to protect a delicate ecosystem.
The White House countered that the procedures were too slow.
“Unfortunately, decades of uncoordinated piecemeal regulatory actions have diminished the ability of our federal infrastructure to deliver needed water and power while also decreasing regulatory uncertainty and costs for water users throughout the western United States,” a senior administration official who spoke on background with reporters said.
“Additionally, court actions have further complicated the regulatory environment by proscribing water uses until environmental reviews are completed.”
David Bernhardt, the deputy secretary at the interior department, said the memo “might be the most significant action taken by a president on western water issues in my lifetime.”
Asked whether he thought the courts would disapprove of speeding through biological assessments, Bernhardt said enough time had already passed.
“For the last decade people have done a lot of talking and a lot of examination, and the reality is that on the ground results for people and species have not dramatically improved,” he said.