When it comes to environmental policies, President Donald Trump has made plenty of questionable decisions, but states aren't going down without a fight. This week, Trump fulfilled a campaign promise to divert water to California farmers. The order, which puts already endangered species at increased risk, prompted a swift lawsuit from the state.
Trump's plans focus on taking water from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers which make up the state's largest river systems. This water will be pumped to the southern half of California where it will primarily benefit already-wealthy nut farmers, Vice reported.
If you're not familiar with California's waterways, this may not seem like a problem. However, these systems are home to critically threatened fish like the Delta smelt, which is only found in the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The smelt — along with other fish such as salmon — have already experienced drops in numbers because of humans diverting water.
Barely twenty-four hours after Trump signed the order, California issued a response in the form of a lawsuit. In it, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued that the administration's failure to protect endangered fish species is in violation of the law.
“As we face the unprecedented threat of a climate emergency, now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not destroy it,” Becerra said in a statement. “California won’t silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically-challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways.”
Researchers estimate that there's only about 1,000 Delta smelt left in the wild. It's hard to know the exact number, but Trump has long complained about the 3-inch fish. You might not think such tiny fish matter, but you have to think of them as a warning sign.
“The Delta smelt is really the canary in the coal mine,” Doug Obegi, the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California river restoration program, told Vice. “It’s not just about the individual fish. It really is about the broader ecosystem and all the human jobs and communities that depend on a healthy delta.”
While announcing his new order at a campaign rally in Bakersfield, the Hill reported that Trump bragged, "A major obstacle to providing water for the region's farmers has now been totally eliminated by the government."
Trump's suggestions that environmental protections are an "obstacle" is in line with his previous policies. The order comes after the Department of the Interior weakened water protections for California's fish in October 2019. And you can see the theme throughout the administration's decisions. For example, in November, the administration issued an EPA "transparency" proposal that would undermine scientific research. Then last month, the administration finalized new water rules rolling back Obama-era protections.
It's unclear what exactly will come of California's lawsuit. But, the state's governor, Gavin Newsom, maintains that the goal is to “provide the best immediate protection for species, reliable and safe drinking water, and dependable water sources for our farmers for economic prosperity."