Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed staff to draft a plan within 15 days that would “maximize water supply deliveries” to farmers south of California’s Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, The Sacramento Bee reported.
California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is holding public hearings Tuesday on a proposal that would divert less water from the San Joaquin River for use in farms and roughly 3 million households. The SWRCB wants to increase the amount of water flowing from the river into the ocean in order to help fish populations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta recover from historically low numbers.
“The State of California is now proposing additional unacceptable restrictions that further reduce the Department’s ability to deliver water to Federal contractors,” Zinke wrote in an Aug. 17 memo to department staff, according to The Sacramento Bee.
“The time for action is now,” the Interior secretary wrote, insisting that more water should be made available south of the delta for use by farms, homes and businesses.
Further limiting Californian’s use of the water would force thousands to look for a supply underground, straining the state’s already depleted aquifers, critics of the state’s plan say.
Environmentalists oppose the secretary’s plan.
“It’s indicative of a more bullying and hysterical tone,” Natural Resources Defense Council California water program director Doug Obegi told the Los Angeles Times.
The fight between the Trump administration and California over the state’s water policy ratcheted up recently as result of record wildfires sweeping through the state. President Donald Trump has blamed “bad environmental laws” for adding to the wildfires’ severity. (RELATED: Ryan Zinke Shifts The Wildfire Debate From Global Warming To Anti-Logging ‘Environmental Terrorists’)
Environmentalists and agriculture interests have fought over the appropriate use for water in the San Joaquin River. Farmers argue that the water is needed for irrigation and to sate California’s high demand for water. Environmentalists say diverting water from flowing into the delta is harming stocks of fish, particularly the endangered delta smelt.
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