Congressman Jeff Denham lauds Trump as he signs memorandum sending more water to San Joaquin Valley agribusiness interests

Congressman Jeff Denham (right) lauded
President Trump's action diverting water for
agribusiness interests. | 
By Dan Bacher | October 20, 2018 |

Congressman Jeff Denham (CA-10) on Friday joined President Donald Trump in Arizona for Trump’s signing of a memorandum directing the Department of Interior to slash environmental protections for the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to benefit Central Valley agribusiness interests.

The memo directs the Department of Interior to deliver more Sacramento and San Joaquin River water to big growers in the San Joaquin Valley — and less to salmon and other imperiled fish populations and the San  Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary. The memo was issued just prior to the midterm elections as Denham and other GOP incumbents face tough challenges from Democratic candidates. The memorandum is available here: 

“President Donald Trump is jumping into Western water wars on the side of agricultural interests just weeks before the midterm elections, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the plans — a major political gift for GOP incumbents in some of the most competitive House races in the country where water supply is a top campaign topic,” according to Politico reporter Annie Snider before the release of the memo.  

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Denham and corporate agribusiness groups praised Trump’s memorandum on western water while fishing and environmental groups condemned it. 

    The memorandum directs the Department of the Interior and the Department of Commerce “to work together to deliver western communities the water supplies they need to irrigate millions of acres of farmland and provide water and power to millions of Americans,” according to a statement from Zinke’s Office.

    “Water is the lifeblood of any thriving economy, and its importance in the West cannot be overstated,” said Secretary Zinke. “We want to use water in the most practical sense, and make sure our water infrastructure is in world class shape for all uses. Working to get our farms the water they need is key to rural prosperity, and I applaud President Trump for making this key issue a top priority of his administration.”

    The Memorandum directs the Interior and Commerce Departments to take a number of specific actions, including:

    • “Expediting regulatory actions essential to the operation of water infrastructure
    • Improving the information and modeling capabilities related to water availability
    • Expanding use of water desalination and water recycling
    • Accelerating and clarifying requirements for compliance with the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act
    • Removing unnecessary burdens unique to the operation of the Columbia River Basin’s water infrastructure.”

    Representative Denham lauded Trump’s memorandum in a press release entitled, “POTUS Responds to Rep. Denham’s call to save Central Valley Water.”

    “My number one priority has always been to deliver more water to the Central Valley,” said Denham. “This order will reduce regulatory burdens and promote more efficient environmental reviews of California water storage projects, ensuring that Valley farmers and residents have a supply of water for generations to come.” 

    Congressman Jim Costa (CA-16) also applauded Trump’s executive action. 

    “Today’s announcement by the President is the next step in restoring more reliable water supplies to all regions of California,” said Costa. “For years, communities throughout the San Joaquin Valley have been harmed by the regulations imposed under the Endangered Species Act which reduce the Valley’s water supplies in order to restore fish populations.”

    Fellow Democratic Congressman John Garamendi (CA-3), a senior member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who represents over 200 miles of the Sacramento Valley, slammed the memorandum.

    “President Trump is continuing his attack on the environment and on California’s constitutional right to determine its water policies,” said Garamendi. “Not only is he attacking the multi-million dollar fishing industry in California, but he’s also attacking the contractual and legal rights of water districts and seems determined to advance the disastrous $20 billion twin tunnels boondoggle.”

    “This is nothing but a cynical effort to build support for his endangered political allies in the Central Valley. I’ll defend the Delta against anyone, no matter who it is or which political party they belong to,” said Garamendi.

    Fishing and environmental groups blasted the memorandum as a political move, based out of desperation, to bolster the chances of GOP incumbents whose campaigns are heavily funded by corporate agribusiness interests. 

    "Western water mismanagement has been horrendous for commercial, recreational, and guide fisheries in California,” said Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations (PCFFA) executive director Noah Oppenheim in a statement. “Water users have sucked our rivers dry for far too long, and the fish have been paying the price.”

    “Just last month the Secretary of Commerce declared our 2016 and 2017 fishing seasons to be official federal fishery disasters. With today's announcement, the Trump Administration is poised to ram another ill-founded biological opinion down our throats. Why such a short timeline? Seems like things are getting desperate at the Department of the Interior and a few Central Valley congressional races to me,” said Oppenheim.

    PCFFA is the largest organization of commercial fishermen on the West Coast, with over 750 members fishing for sustainable seafood from Santa Barbara to Alaska, according to Oppenheim.

    Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, criticized Denham for “leading the charge to interfere with states rights to oversee and operate its water delivery system” by pressuring Trump to sign the presidential memorandum. 

    “The real water grab is what Congressman Denham is inflicting on the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary,” said Barrigan-Parrilla-Parrilla. “Denham, a supposed conservative, is leading the charge to interfere with state rights to oversee and operate its water delivery systems, by pushing President Trump for Federal intervention in the Water Quality Plan for the Bay-Delta currently before the State Water Resources Control Board. In the process, he is splitting his own district, forgetting what is important to his constituents in San Joaquin County – a healthy and restored Delta.”

    “While we would like to see even more flows restored to rivers that flow into the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary than what is presently being considered by the State Water Board, the present plan before the Board, which President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke are now trying to help Representative Denham thwart, contains at least an improvement over current in-flow conditions for the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary,” she stated.

    She also pointed out that Denham, supposedly an “opponent” of the tunnels project, is promoting two Congressional riders that would ban the ability of Delta residents to sue over the tunnels and Central Valley Project operations.

    “Congressman Denham, who claims to be against the Brown Administration’s WaterFix tunnels, has, however, also voted for and helped to advance the controversial Calvert and Valadao riders in the Department of Interior House Appropriations bill,” she revealed. “The Calvert rider would strip Delta residents of due process rights by blocking their ability to litigate over the tunnels project, while the Valadao rider would block Delta residents from being able to litigate over the operation of the Central Valley Project.”

    “Our concern is that Congressman Denham’s effort to stop the needed restoration of river flows downstream in the Delta, with passage of these riders, would mean that millions of Bay-Delta residents would have no legal recourse for deteriorated water quality conditions and reduced access to needed fresh water supplies from a re-operation of water projects – all to support almond growers up and down the San Joaquin Valley, whose crops are sold mostly to foreign markets,”

    she stated. “This matches up with recent campaign contributions Congressman Denham has taken from Stewart Resnick of the Wonderful Company, and board members from the Oakdale Irrigation District, and show the Congressman’s concerns for the top 1% of agribusiness at the expense of everyday Californians.”

    "Californians should not be fooled,” she added. “Congressman Denham is using the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary to further his political aspirations and to hold onto power.  He is no friend of the estuary, or his constituents who depend on a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta."  

    The memorandum comes at the end of a tumultuous week at Trump’s Department of Interior.  

    After media reports earlier this week that the Interior Department’s Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall would be replaced with Suzanne Tufts, a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Interior Department today issued a statement that the reported replacement was “false information.”

    In fact, Kendall will be staying in her job and there never had been any decision to replace Kendall with Tufts, according to the Office of Interior Secretary Zinke.  

    “HUD sent out an email that had false information in it,” said Heather Swift, a senior adviser to Zinke, in a statement. “Ms. Tufts was referred to the Department by the White House as a potential candidate for a position in the Inspector General’s office. At the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior.”

    More information:… 

    Today’s memorandum signing by Trump also takes place as Governor Jerry Brown continues to promote his Delta Tunnels project before he leaves office. Considered to be the most environmentally destructive public works project in California history by opponents, the project is comprised of two massive 35-mile long tunnels under the Delta to facilitate the export of water to corporate agribusiness interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, oil companies conducting fracking and other extreme oil extraction methods in Kern County, and Southern California water agencies.

    Opponents say the removal of big quantities of water from the Sacramento River would result in the destruction of the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, and West Coast fisheries. The say the project would not only hasten the extinction of Sacramento River winter and spring Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Delta and long fin smelt and other fish species, but would imperil the salmon and steelhead populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers.

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