Residents of wildfire-ravaged Shasta County were relieved this week when the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Aug. 6 it would provide much-needed disaster aid. At the same time that President Donald Trump made another California county eligible for relief, he tweeted twice that state water and environmental policies were to blame for magnifying the size of the continuing wildfire disaster.
The presidential tweets mystified and enraged state officials, politicians and scientists, but one environmental activist, Herman Garcia of Gilroy, thinks he knows the source of the President’s accusation.
In July 2017, Garcia revealed to the Gilroy Dispatch that the state’s failure to modify 60-year-old water policies had forced the release of water from state reservoirs following October rainstorms. State policy prevented collection of rainwater in reservoirs before Nov. 1, which Garcia argued wasted precious water resources and ignored changes in state rainfall patterns. This prompted promises from state officials to study the issue.
California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird didn’t respond to questions this week about Trump’s accusations, or about the status of his department’s study of Garcia’s concerns.
“Our complaint made it all the way to the Oval Office,” a jubilant Garcia said this week, theorizing that word of allegedly wasteful water policies had finally reached the President, prompting the comments in this week’s White House tweets.
Others offered an alternative political explanation for Trump’s water tweets: the release by the state Water Resources Control Board on July 6, following nine years of research, of a controversial final draft plan to increase water flows through the Lower San Joaquin River and its tributaries—the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers—to prevent an ecological crisis, including the total collapse of fisheries.
If approved, the plan would shift some water away from the farms and ranches of the Central Valley, raising objections from Republican lawmakers and claims that Democrats and environmentalists favored “fish over farms.”
“The San Francisco Bay-Delta is an ecosystem in crisis,”said state Water Board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus. “The board’s challenge is to balance multiple valuable uses of water—for fish and wildlife, agriculture, urban, recreation and other uses.
“Californians want a healthy environment, healthy agriculture and healthy communities, not one at the expense of the others,” Marcus added. “That requires the water wars to yield to collective efforts to help fish and wildlife through voluntary action, which the proposed plan seeks to reward.”
The Water Board will consider adopting a final plan on Aug. 21.
The California Water Action Plan was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, with the goal of moving, by 2019, toward “a more reliable water supply for California’s farms and communities, restoring important wildlife habitat and species and helping the state’s water systems and environment become more resilient.”
In July 2017, the Dispatch reported that Laird promised an investigation into the reported waste of massive amounts of water by the Santa Clara Valley Water District and others.
Garcia, who had traveled to Sacramento to urge an investigation and a change in current law, is the founding president and CEO of the Gilroy-based Coastal Habitat Restoration and Environmental Education, or CHEER. The conservation nonprofit restores and protects waterways and steelhead trout in the four-county Pajaro River Watershed.
Garcia discovered the water-waste incident in October 2016, when massive amounts of water were released from Uvas Reservoir after three days of rain had drenched the 1,300-square-mile watershed that encompasses all or parts of Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties.
As for the President’s claims connecting California water policies and wildfires, here is the assessment that Peter Gleick, an Oakland scientist and founder of The Pacific Institute, offered on the Mother Jones website this week:
“Both of the President’s tweets reveal a profound misunderstanding of the way California water works. It’s not that we’re diverting water into the Pacific Ocean. The tiny amount of water that reaches the Pacific Ocean these days is what’s left after we’ve diverted the vast majority of our rivers to cities and farms. He just has this completely backward. And furthermore, there’s no water policy that would have made these fires worse. We don’t take water from the forest. The forest provides water to use, and water is allocated to farmers and to cities and a little bit to the fish. And what’s left is in the rivers. And it flows down to our ecosystems.”
PHOTO of Herman Garcia in Dispatch AssetsInfo Box:
President Trump’s ‘wildfire/water tweets’
Aug.5—“California wildfires are being magnified and made much worse by bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
Aug.6—“Gov. 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.”