Biden, Newsom race to cement Calif. water grab ahead of potential Trump victory

New federal rules that govern the Central Valley’s water supply are on track to be codified before a change of power in the event of a potential Biden defeat in November.

President Joe Biden is planning to cement new, strenuous rules governing how California’s water is managed by the end of the year, completing a four-year fight to shred a water boost for Valley farmers and southern California instituted under President Trump. 

According to a federal agency schedule published by POLITICO, the Biden administration plans to have new biological opinions in place by Dec. 6 to pare back how water flows via the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. 


The backstory: The 2019 biological opinions put in place by the Trump administration were developed with an eye toward cutting edge science driving adaptive water management in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help boost water supplies to farmers in the Central Valley and southern California communities.

The biological opinions themselves were the result of an eleventh hour mad scramble by the Obama administration to bracket more sweeping changes by the incoming Trump administration in late 2016.

  • The resulting legislation, the 2016 Water Infrastructure and Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act, was brokered by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif.) and then-House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R–Bakersfield) with significant input from his neighbor, Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford).
  • The WIIN Act would launch the process of updating the 2008/2009 biological opinions for the Central Valley Project and State Water Project, which were considered grossly outdated and too rigid to adequately supply water to human populations in the San Joaquin Valley and southern California.
  • Environmentalists and Democrats have vigorously fought against the resulting 2019 environmental rules by renewing a push that endangered – some possibly extinct – fish would be affected by increased pumping from the Delta.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and environmental groups sued to stop the 2019 biological opinions from being used, and the Central Valley Plan has been operated under temporary plans that reduced those lofty flows developed by the Trump administration for the last few years. 

The big picture: If the Biden administration is able to push through new rules before Trump potentially returns to the White House, it would give Newsom and Democrats in California a stronger legal defense to keep them in place and fend off any attempts from Trump to institute another set of new biological opinions. 

  • Karla Nemeth, the Director of the California Department of Water Resources, told POLITICO that the goal is to get the opinions done by the end of Biden’s first – and possibly only – term in office. 
  • “It seems likely that a different federal administration would reopen things and take another look,” Nemeth told the publication. “We would still have our California permit, so that then becomes the driver.”
  • As it stands, the half-step environmental rules currently governing the flow of water through the Delta have come under attack by water users across the state, largely due to the overwhelming amount of water being stored in reservoirs across northern California and paltry water supplies being pushed south through the Delta.

The other side: Republicans, including Rep. David Valadao (R–Hanford), are pushing back. 

  • “Obviously, they’re being rushed for political purposes,” Valadao told POLITICO. “They know that it’s not going to be good. So that’s why they’re being so secretive.”
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