Everyone knows oil and water don’t mix.
What about Trump and water?
Given the sheer magnitude and volume of ridiculousness we’ve heard coming from President Trump over the past four years, you may not remember the 2016 campaign rhetoric paying special attention to the drought in California, and in particular, the conflict around agricultural use of water in the Central Valley.
To provide a refresher, Trump stated in a late summer 2016 speech that there was, in fact, no drought in California, and the only problem was that water was being left to flow out into the ocean. This narrative stayed consistent throughout his four years in office and has returned for a second season during his 2020 Covid-19 giveaway tour, er…, I mean, campaign trail.
“Look at where California is going to have to ration water,” Trump said during a bizarre Fox News phone interview on October 8th. “You know why?” he continued. “Because they send millions of gallons of water out to sea, out to the Pacific because they want to take care of certain little tiny fish that aren’t doing very well without water, to be honest with you.”
Though unsurprising given Trump's ignorance around climate change and water in general, by not properly attributing the real issues going on in California, he spreads dangerous misconceptions about the true severity of the situation and downplays the importance of the delta smelt. Despite its small size, the delta smelt makes a big impact by acting as a health indicator for the entire Delta ecosystem. By 2015, the species was near extinction, a harrowing reflection of the devastating impacts of the extended drought that started in 2011. Obviously, there is more at play here than just ‘taking care of certain little tiny fish’.
Since 2016, there has been an ongoing tug of war between California Democrats and the Trump administration regarding water policy. While the State of California pursues conservation policies that redirect water into the San Francisco Bay to protect the fish, Trump has motioned to roll back protections for the delta smelt and redirect water to farmers. Stuck on the size of the fish, Trump fails to recognize that sending water out to sea through the state’s natural watercourse is not solely an effort to revive the species but is also vital to the preservation of the natural environment. A natural environment that is relied upon by millions of people to make a living.
So you might be wondering, what’s the situation actually like in California? The Central Valley stretches about 700 km from top to bottom, parallel to the coast and set inland between the Coast Ranges and the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is California’s most productive agricultural region, one of the most productive in the world, producing more than half of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the US. All of which requires a big bunch of water.
Groundwater, stored in the Central Valley Aquifer under the valley floor, has supplied much of this water for the past century. But the water stored in this aquifer has been depleted faster than it has been replenished, resulting in a groundwater overdraft and causing the ground to sink dramatically. The Sacramento River and San Joaquin River, two of the biggest rivers in northern California, join up before flowing into San Francisco Bay. Water is diverted from these rivers and sent through a series of canals through the Central Valley and into southern California. Along the way, water is withdrawn and used for agriculture. With groundwater stocks rapidly depleting, the water in the rivers is being looked at as a source to support continued agricultural growth through the drought by rediverting more of their water into the canal system, at the expense of ecosystem health in San Francisco Bay.
Indicative of the current situation in California, a key component to addressing some of these difficult issues is sustainable water management practices. Answering the imminent need for data and tools in the state, we developed the Foundry Spatial California Water Framework to provide accessible, actionable information concerning sustainable groundwater management.
Our work in water management considers the concept of environmental flow needs and streamflow depletion from groundwater pumping. When we look at water supply and demand on a stream or river, it’s not just about the total amount of water that is available compared to the existing water demand but also considering the variability of supply and the amount required for the environmental health of the water system. Putting that into calculations shows how much water needs to be reserved to maintain the health of the ecosystems.
The Foundry Spatial California Water Framework bridges the gap between the lack of data and tools in California to prevent adverse impacts to groundwater, surface water, and their dependent ecosystems and vital leading-edge solutions for the long-term sustainability of these resources. By helping resource managers and decision-makers understand the past, present, and future surface water depletion that results from groundwater pumping, we are one piece of the puzzle for solving the water crisis in the state. Another piece of the puzzle is, of course, electing a new president.