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California files a lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop new water rules

  • California files lawsuit against the Trump administration to stop new water rules
    The Delta viewed from above Sherman Island, with the Sacramento River above and San Joaquin River below. Credit: Wikipedia
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Last week the government of California sued the Trump administration, to stop new federal rules that establish the amount of water that can be withdrawn for agricultural purposes, reports Abc News.

The rules affect the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, which provide California with water for the state’s busy agriculture sector. The new rules will allow farmers to extract more water from the river systems. But several fish species protected under state and federal law live in those rivers, species which have been declining since dams were built to control flooding and bring water elsewhere in the state.

California has two networks of dams and canals, one run by the state and the other run by the federal government, and historically, the federal government has established the rules for both of them. Recently, state authorities have blamed Trump’s administration for proposing rules that fail to protect endangered species. No compromise was reached between the federal and the state government, and the new rules were announced last week.

Trump told the public ‘We’re going to get you your water and put a lot of pressure on your governor’ during a visit to Bakersfield, in Kern County ─ a rich agricultural region. Now the state’s democrat administration of Gavin Newsom has filed a lawsuit challenging the US Bureau of Reclamation. California’s state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said ‘California won’t silently spectate as the Trump Administration adopts scientifically-challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction and harm our natural resources and waterways’.

The U.S. Department of the Interior, responsible for the bureau, has warned about the unpredictability and challenges the litigation could lead to for Californians who depend on the most complex water operations in the U.S., and said the new rules commit $1.5 billion from the federal and state governments towards endangered species habitat conservation and monitoring, for the coming 10 years. But the state claims the water withdrawals would drive populations of endangered fish ─ smelt, chinook salmon and steelhead trout ─ in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to extinction.

In California, litigation over water issues is commonplace, but Newsom’s government had been trying to put it behind, engaging in negotiations with water agencies in the hope of reaching voluntary agreements on water quality standards in the delta. The new lawsuit could affect the process, although the governor has said voluntary agreements continue to be his objective going forward.

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