Trump's wild rant about California water transcribed (and translated)

By Dan Bacher | 

UPDATED May 11 10:30 a.m. | 

Donald Trump’s recent rant about California water, based loosely on corporate agribusiness talking points, is one of the most strangest of his that I have listened to. I decided to transcribe the president’s musings from the below video, shared on Twitter by Aaron Rupar, an associate editor at Vox covering politics and policy, so people could see exactly what what Trump said.

Trump made the comments during Friday’s GOP luncheon after he heard remarks from Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA) about California essential workers. Nunes is a relentless supporter of pumping more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to Central Valley agribusiness corporations at an enormous cost to West Coast fisheries, Delta farmers, California Indian Tribes, recreational and commercial fishing families, environmental justice communities, Delta and Northern California businesses and the people of California.  

According to Sky Palma of Raw Story, “Trump talked about a past conversation with Nunes where he apparently was told that California sends ‘millions of gallons of water out to the ocean’ to protect a species of fish called the Delta Smelt, ‘that’s not doing well — it’s getting no water.”’ (

“Nunes seemingly tried to veer the discussion back to the essential workers of his district, but Trump was still fixated on water,” wrote Palma.  

Trump continued, “With the water, though — I said, ‘So, what has to happen?’ Well, you need approvals from Congress, from this, from that — you need all sorts of approvals but you need it from Congress more importantly than anything.”

After that Trump launched into his rant about his house and lawn in Los Angeles and California water.  “Trump's lamentations about water management policies in California are completely beyond parody,” said Rupar in his tweet. I totally agree. Here is my transcript of what Trump said: 

“I had a house in Los Angeles — you couldn’t have sold it. You know why I’m selling it? Because Secret Service says you can’t come here anymore. I said I might as well sell it. I had a house and you couldn’t, couldn’t have water and you couldn’t water your grass. They said, oh, you’re not allowed to water your grass. 

And then you look at this massive turn, they had a turn, it takes a day to turn it, like a big faucet. And they turn it. And It veers all of the water out into the Pacific. It’s crazy.  So we’re all set except you need Gavin’s signature all of the way up. If you get Gavin’s signature – you can have water from Los Angeles all of the way up. And It’s the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. I thought, I thought, it was the drought. No, he said, we have tremendous amounts of water but we send it out to the Pacific Ocean and it was over the smelt. So if you can get his signature.”

Trump refers to a “massive turn,”  “like a big faucet” that “veers all of the water out into the Pacific. Although nothing like this actually exists, I think Trump may be referring to the Central Valley Project pumping facilities in the South Delta that deliver water through the Delta Mendota Canal and the joint state-federal storage reservoir, San Luis Reservoir and the O’Neill Forebay, to agribusiness interests in the San Joaquin Valley. 

And of course, Trump has to follow Nunes’ lead in blaming the Delta smelt for all of the big growers’ water problems. While the water contractors blame the Delta smelt for restrictions on Delta pumping for San Joaquin Valley irrigators, findings published in the journal San Francisco Estuary & Watershed Science in March 2019 reveal that water exports from the South Delta were limited by infrastructure and water quality concerns far more often than protections for endangered species.

According to the article, during the 2010-2018 study period, 89% of Central Valley water flowing into San Francisco Bay was the result of salinity control and infrastructure constraints on water exports compared to less than 1.5% caused by endangered species act safeguards specific to protection of Delta smelt from entrainment in the export pumps.

“Safeguards for the San Francisco Bay estuary’s six endangered fish species led to relatively small increases in freshwater flow to the Bay,” said Greg Reis, staff scientist for The Bay Institute and lead author of the research article. “In two of the nine years, we studied, protections for Delta Smelt did not limit water exports for even a single day — the effect on water supplies of protecting this unique species, which functions as an indicator of overall ecosystem health, is far less than what’s commonly reported.”

“Despite water quality regulations that are intended to protect fisheries and wildlife populations in general, and endangered species act protections for the most imperiled fishes, the proportion of Central Valley river flows that make it all the way to San Francisco Bay has been declining for decades,” said Dr. Jonathan Rosenfield, Senior Scientist at San Francisco Baykeeper and co-author of this study. “Currently, Californians divert, on average, about 1/2 of the ecologically critical winter-spring runoff that would otherwise flow into San Francisco Bay, and the fish, wildlife, and water quality that rely on this water are suffering as a result.”

Not only did Trump’s statement about the endangered Delta smelt have no scientific basis, but his statement that “If you get Gavin’s signature – you can have water from Los Angeles all of the way up” is an example of extremely muddled thinking.

Apparently Trump is referring to the current legal battle between the state and federal governments over the federal biological opinion that was rewritten to remove protections for endangered Delta and longfin smelt, winter and spring run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead and other fish species so that water exports to corporate growers can be maximized.    

Does Trump want Newsom to sign an agreement with the Trump administration or what? But how that will increase the available water in a below average water year like this one is not really clear to me. Clearly, Trump doesn’t understand California’s water supply infrastructure and how it works.  

On February 20, the day after Governor Gavin Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said they would sue President Donald Trump over his signing of revised biological opinions in Bakersfield, Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for failing to protect endangered fish species from federal water export operations. For more information, read:…
Since then, there has been an avalanche of lawsuits by the State Water Contractors, Central Valley Project water contractors and environmental and fishing groups contesting state and federal water plans.

Then on May 7, Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Devin Nunes (CA-22), Ken Calvert (CA-42), Tom McClintock (CA-04), Doug LaMalfa (CA-01), and Paul Cook  (CA-08) sent a letter to Governor Newsom calling on him to withdraw the state’s lawsuit against the recently finalized federal biological opinions, including a pending preliminary injunction designed to block implementation of the biological opinions. 

Now, with no actual knowledge about California river systems, the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary, fish populations and the state’s water supply infrastructure, Trump has chosen to babble on about California water politics after being fed disinformation by Congressman Nunes. 


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