Column: California water war re-ignited


The COVID-19 pandemic, we have been told, is transforming how we live, but one aspect of life in California appears immune to change: the state’s perennial war over water.

President Donald Trump and California Gov. Gavin Newsom may have set aside their incessant squabbling over most issues to cooperate on the pandemic, but they are poised for showdown over who controls the state’s vital water supply.

Last year, Trump’s Bureau of Reclamation, reflecting his 2016 campaign promises to San Joaquin Valley farmers, issued new operating criteria for the federal Central Valley Project that would send more water to agricultural irrigators and less to bolster habitat for fish and other wildlife in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The bureau’s 871-page “biological assessment” was aimed, it said, to “maximize water supply and delivery” while maintaining adequate protections for fish.

The state Department of Water Resources quickly disagreed by issuing its own draft of operational guidelines for the State Water Project. DWR Director Karla A. Nemeth said the guidelines would implement “a more sophisticated and nimble way to manage the State Water Project to improve our ability to protect species and operate more flexibly.”

More recently, that position was finalized in an “incidental taking permit” issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, aimed at improving wildlife survival as water is diverted from the Delta.

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