Trump’s drought comments.

Perhaps you have heard that Mr. Trump discussed our water issues at a rally in Fresno.  His policy statements change by the moment, but I do like them as his barometer for what the crowd wants to hear.  He has a genius for reducing any issue down to the purest synthesis of what his crowd wants to hear.  Before he gets back to talking about himself, Mr. Trump says of the drought:

We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous. Where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea.
And I just met with a lot of the farmers, who are great people, and they’re saying we don’t even understand it, they don’t understand it, nobody understands it. And I’ve heard this from other friends of mine in California where they have farms up here and they don’t get water.
I said, oh, that’s too bad, is it a drought? “No, we have plenty of water” and I said well what’s wrong and they said well we shove it out to sea. And I said why? And nobody even knows why and the environmentalists don’t know why. Now they’re trying to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish. But…
No, no think of it. So nobody even knows why. And by the way the environmentalists don’t know why.   [emphasis added]

Mr. Trump’s assessment of what will please his crowd in Fresno is an assertion that the policies that are guiding State drought management are beyond reason, beyond understanding, unknown even to the practitioners of these policies.  These words reassure his crowd that it is OK that they don’t understand, because State water management is objectively not understandable.  So what is it that they don’t understand?

One possibility is that Mr. Trump’s receptive audience doesn’t understand how we arrived at pumping restrictions.  I get that.  I do.  The chain of events goes: loss of habitat and bottleneck at the pumps => endangered species listing for smelt => biological opinions => upheld by courts and the National Academy of Science review => we can only pump when there aren’t any smelt near the pumps.  That isn’t straightforward.  It has developed over years; I wouldn’t expect anyone who isn’t a water junkie to have kept track. However, this is not beyond any understanding; professionals in the field understand it.  Mr. Trump might mean, ‘it can’t be explained to me in thirty seconds’, which is not the same thing as ‘no one knows why’.  It isn’t beyond reason, either.  All the steps in the political processes and scientific analyses have all been incremental and upheld by our agreed upon public governance methods.

It is more likely that what Mr. Trump is reassuring his audience is that the values that guide recent water management are inexplicable.  That valuing a three-inch fish is inherently unreasonable, so much so that even environmentalists “don’t know why”.  (Maybe they meant to value some big charismatic fish and got accidently carried away!!  It could happen!)   The invaluable Mr. Fitchette expounds on a similar view, that different underlying values are plain wrong.

Now Mr. Trump is a demagogue and a good one.  But the thing that interests me is that while he gets cheers from saying that “no one knows” why the farm sector hasn’t gotten a full water allotment, his own crowd isn’t with him when he says “there is no drought.”  Watch these 16 seconds.  The crowd doesn’t applaud.  The man behinds him looks up sharply, startled.  The locals know; they can see the Sierras from their homes.  They saw no snowpack last winter.  They know the hills didn’t green over winter. They may enjoy being pandered to for an evening, but they don’t agree when he contradicts the facts they experienced.  I don’t envy them their cognitive dissonance.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “Trump’s drought comments.

  1. Beans Bishop

    Excellent analysis. This gets more interesting every day. A small suggestion, it is properly “the Sierra” (singular), not “the Sierras.” Even many of the residents of our magnificent range use it incorrectly.

    • Technically, from historical and Spaniard perspective, there are two Sierra Madres: Sierra Madre Oriental and Sierra Madre Occidental.

  2. John Bass

    “Mr. Trump is a demagogue and a good one.” Tapping into the growing (and old, as in fundamental, to many) belief that entitlement is not given, but must be taken. Scary politics.

  3. Mike

    Actually there is 6,700,000 more acre feet in reservoirs compared to last year at this time and the snow pack in the Sierra is also much better. So the hills in the southern Sierra did green over the winter. There still is significant snowpack in 2016. I am confused why this would create cognitive dissonance.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I trust his listeners to remember the past four years. I agree that the hills were green during the 2015-2016 winter, but not the previous two winters. I am sure they saw the pictures of the bathtub rings in the reservoirs. Even Trump supporters can remember that!

  4. This event demonstrates what an ignorant blow hard cobbles together when he gets a two minute debrief on water issues from staff prepping him for his ‘rally’ as he flies around the country in Air Trump. What a clown!

  5. Trump is a culture war re-tweeter. He flew here, got some San Joaquin flavor culture war pabulum and regurgitated it.

    Today’s corporate farmers got hosed by the previous generation of corporate farmers. We could have had the peripheral canal but Salyer/Boswell and others decided donate money to stir up North Cal/South Cal resentment and helped to defeat the canal. Their motivations weren’t entirely clear, but it may have been the environmental protections for North Cal rivers that farmers thought they should be entitled to.

    • Diane

      Yes, we could have had a peripheral — and that may have been better for the environment in the long run — but the reason we didn’t get one is because the big water users wouldn’t commit to a maximum capacity for the canal, thereby limiting their future pumping. That’s the problem with the tunnels today: big ag and MET won’t commit to a maximum, which is why the Nocal/Socal resentment will have to be stirred up again.

  6. OTPR,
    Are you comfortable with the smelt issue? Wind turbines slaughter thousands of raptors yearly, and we are choking the life out of American farmers and their families because of a 3 inch minnow? This isn’t right. Trump will fix it. You will see.

  7. I’ll take that as agreement. Go Trump!

  8. Do you know that parts of northern California received 99 inches of rain during this water year? Can you imagine what that water could do for the
    water situation in SoCal? This country is covered with oil, natural gas and
    gasoline pipelines. An effective manager like Trump who could care less
    about the smelt might be able to bring that water south. Edmond Brown
    did!

  9. One must be cautious in assuming the economics of solutions in one industry like petroleum automatically apply to a different industry like water supply. Oil at $60/barrel costs about a half a million dollars per acre-foot, because an acre-foot is a lot of volume. Irrigation districts pay about $50 per acre-foot of delivered water now. Just because you can build a pipeline doesn’t mean it will deliver water at prices farmers will pay.

    But if you know of proposed projects that can acquire the necessary water rights and deliver the water for prices the users are willing to pay, post some links.