Trump and Water

Everyone knows oil and water don’t mix. What about Trump and water?

Ben Kerr, Foundry Spatial CEO and Chief Water Scientist reflects on President-elect Trump’s comments about California water

US politics has dominated international media for much of this year. While Donald Trump has many supporters (how else did he win?), his election victory came as a surprise to many around the world. What you might have missed in his campaign rhetoric was the special attention paid to the drought in California, and in particular, the conflict around agricultural use of water in the Central Valley.

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, causing the ground to sink dramatically. The Sacramento River and San Joaquin River, two of the three biggest rivers in California, also flow through the valley and join up before flowing into San Francisco Bay. 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.


1977-poland_telephonepole-410x1024Which brings us to the politics. Trump stated in a late summer speech to farmers, that there was in fact no drought in California. That it was a man-made problem. Not man-made in the sense that climate change had something to do with it, but man-made in the sense that the only problem was that water was being left to flow out into the ocean.

The Colorado River has been drained dry – it no longer flows through Mexico to the Gulf of California on a regular basis. At the peril of endangered species and the health of the San Francisco Bay, the same strategy would be proposed for the Sacramento River in California, to resolve the needs of agricultural production in the Central Valley. That wouldn’t cure the drought. It would kill every living thing that depends on that water.

Our work in water management considers the concept of Environmental Flow Needs. When we look at water supply and demand on a stream or river, it’s not just the total amount of water that is available compared against the existing demand. The variability of supply and the amount required for the environmental health of the water system is considered and put into calculations that show how much water needs to be reserved to maintain the health of the ecosystems.

The laws governing water use in California are very similar to those in BC. Let’s hope that agricultural demands don’t trump the needs of the environment there – or here.

Have thoughts on Trump’s comments about California water? Leave your own comment below…