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President’s action aims to benefit water supplies

Issue Date: October 24, 2018
By Christine Souza

A memorandum from President Trump intends to provide relief to farmers, cities, rural communities and wildlife refuges in the West that have struggled under water-supply regulations.

President Trump's memorandum—signed last Friday and addressed to the secretaries of the Interior, Commerce, Energy, the Army, and the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality—seeks to streamline regulatory processes for Western water projects.

It also requires agencies to complete within 10 months a reconsultation of biological opinions for protected fish species that affect the long-term operation of existing facilities within the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.

The review of biological opinions written for the delta smelt in 2008 and salmon in 2009 has been underway since August 2016.

"Implementation of the Endangered Species Act can be better for both species and people," California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson said. "It's time to grow beyond the culture of conflict that has governed California water for too long. We need streamlined solutions that benefit species and that benefit both the farmers who provide California-grown food and farm products and everyone who depends on those products."

The biological opinions for salmon and smelt guide operation of federal and state pumping plants in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. CFBF Senior Counsel Chris Scheuring said reconsultation of those opinions "has been in order for some time."

"We think evolving science will indicate that the population-level impacts to the delta smelt come not primarily from flow, or from the pumps, but may also be related to food supply, habitat, predation and other nonflow actions," Scheuring said.

The presidential memorandum intends to improve coordination in permitting and environmental review processes related to water projects between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service within the Department of the Interior and the National Marine Fisheries Service within the Department of Commerce. The action will also affect farmers and ranchers served by federal water projects in the Pacific Northwest, including in the Klamath Basin and Washington's Columbia River Basin.

The action prohibits any impacts to threatened or endangered species protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Klamath Water Users Association Executive Director Scott White called the president's action "encouraging" and said it would help to secure agricultural water and the food supplies that result.

"We've watched with great concern as anti-farming advocates have successfully lobbied and litigated to re-appropriate water in the West for nonagricultural uses," White said.

The action would also benefit wildlife refuges in the Klamath Basin and parts of the Central Valley. Farm groups noted that these wildlife refuges, part of the Pacific Flyway, have had insufficient water to meet the needs of ducks, geese, shorebirds, songbirds and endangered animals.

"An ongoing review of the rules governing these critical water supplies only delays the ability of these important areas to recover," said a statement issued jointly by CFBF, the California Farm Water Coalition, Family Farm Alliance and Western Growers.

"Improved coordination between federal agencies will promote more efficient, effective and coordinated management of all ESA responsibilities for anadromous and freshwater fish in Western watersheds, from the highest reaches of our headwaters to the Pacific Ocean," the statement said.

The president's memo also calls for improving forecasts of water availability and enhancing use of technology to increase water reliability. Other actions directed by the memo include reduction of regulatory burdens to enable broader use of desalinization technology, use of recycled water and innovations in research and technology to improve water management.

Related to licensing of hydroelectric projects, the memorandum asks the secretaries of Interior and Commerce to consider locally developed plans, using the best information available.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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