Then presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Fresno in May 2016. Screenshot via YouTube user WCAMStudios

published on October 6, 2021 - 2:58 PM
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Following nearly two years of litigation regarding Trump-era water policy, the federal government has until Oct. 14 to come up a plan to balance competing needs for the precious resource.

A minute order from District Judge Dale A. Drozd from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California extended by two weeks the due date for the status update that was originally expected to be delivered Sept. 30.

On Sept. 30, Ernest Conant, regional director of the Department of the Interior’s Region 10, penned a letter to officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to begin reevaluating the environmental impact of water allocations from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The California Attorney General’s office had filed a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration following the opinions which had changed — among other things — what environmental factors would be considered when deciding when and how much water should move through California waterways.

Trump water policy largely moved away from calendar-based factors to “real-time” decision-making, said Michael Hellmair in an interview earlier this year. Hellmair is a biologist with FishBio, an environmental research and consulting firm with offices in Oakdale, Chico and Santa Cruz.

Hellmair wrote in an email in February that using real-time environmental factors to determine when to release water could result in negative consequences for the species they are designed to protect. Specifically, decisions could be executed too slowly or could be wrong altogether.

At the same time, Hellmair noted that the opinion was a largely pragmatic document that took into account factors such as fish populations rather than rigid calendar-based factors.

In February 2020, then-California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed a lawsuit along with the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency against the federal government, naming former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross among others in the lawsuit.

What is unclear at this point is the direction the Biden administration will take when it comes to changing water policy. A representative of a water district speaking on background said it could vary from a narrow change, affecting a specific waterway, to a broad change upending what environmental factors are to be used when determining who gets what water.

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