Trump nominee threatens to shake up Central Valley water status quo

WaterAs a presidential candidate, Donald Trump’s promise to help Central Valley farmers get more water and to reduce environmentalists’ influence over the federal government got him a warm reception in rallies last May and August in the region that leads the way in feeding the nation and in powering California’s$54 billion agricultural industry.

As president, for a variety of reasons, Trump so far has only been able to providepart of the relief on water supplies that many in the Central Valley sought, even in the wake of a winter rain deluge. But Trump has signaled his intent to honor his promise to help the region by choosing David Bernhardt – a veteran of California’s water wars – for the No. 2 job in the Interior Department.

Bernhardt is a Colorado-based partner in Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a multi-state law firm which has on four occasions represented the Central Valley’s Westlands Water District, the largest U.S. irrigation district, in lawsuits targeting Interior Department policies. The law firm has been paid $1.3 million by the water agency since 2011.

Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation is expected this week or soon thereafter, but it may be close to a party-line vote. At a May 17 meeting of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Bernhardt was grilled by ranking Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington and other Democrats over the conflicts of interest he would face because of his history representing Westlands and Cadiz, a Los Angeles land development firm that has fought with federal regulators over its audacious plan to access the water in a Mojave Desert aquifer.

Bernhardt: Effect on jobs should matter in regulatory decisions

At the hearing, Bernhardt repeatedly said he would avoid issues involving former clients unless given the blessing of Interior Department ethics lawyers. But Bernhardt’s remarks in answer to another question explain why he may be such a threat to the Central Valley’s water status quo.

When asked about his commitment to “scientific integrity” in enforcing Interior Department policies, Bernhardt said, “I will look at the science with all its significance and its warts. You look at that, you evaluate it and then you look at the legal decision you can make. In some instances the legal decision may allow you to consider other factors, such as jobs.”

This is music to the ears of many Californian Republicans, starting with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare. He has long contended that the Central Valley has suffered from a “man-made drought” because of bureaucratic decisions that interpret laws in ways that place the interests of  endangered fish such as the delta smelt over the needs of humans – despite no compelling legal obligation to do so.

The Obama administration rejected the contention, saying that its actions to use fresh water supplies to help sustain the delta smelt instead of helping Central Valley farmers followed laws requiring the federal government to protect endangered species and the ecosystem of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Administration representatives said the decisions Nunes slammed as arbitrary were anything but.

Yet the highest-profile fight between Bernhardt’s law firm and Obama’s Interior Department wasn’t about the delta smelt or allegedly dubious bureaucratic maneuvering. It was over toxic substances in the irrigation water coming from Westlands’ 940 square-mile district. Despite criticism from environmentalists, the Obama administration agreed to a settlement on how the problem would be ameliorated that the Fresno Bee estimated could save the water agency more than $375 million. Greens who didn’t like the ruling couldn’t overcome the case that Bernhardt built that federal courts had consistently held that the federal government bore the burden for building drainage systems to limit the impact of the toxins.

Feds control 100 million acres of land in California

But Bernhardt’s confirmation would also insert him in other California water issues.

As a Sacramento Bee editorial noted, the deputy interior secretary historically has been “directly involved in virtually every aspect of California water, from the Colorado River agreement in the south to the Klamath River in the north, and, especially, the operations of the Central Valley Project.”

Given that the federal government owns or effectively controls 100 million acres of land in California – second only to Alaska in federal land holdings in the 50 states – this focus by the agency’s number two official is unsurprising.

This piece was originally published by


  1. askeptic says

    OMG,,,,,to even consider “jobs” when the fate of Gaia is on the line.
    Oh, the Humanity!

  2. As we have seen in “global warming,” science is made of rubber that gets twisted into all kinds of shapes and forms to fit the political and economic situations.

    Google “Two Minute Conservative” for more.

  3. When did we become so complacent that we allow the government to tell us what to do with water? What is wrong with us? People sit in their tiny little condos, driving their electric cars and going without to pay their utilities bills. We have become nothing more than obedient robots spitting out our paychecks and handing them over to King Moonbeam.

    We have been begging Pres. Trump to help us and nothing. This tiny gesture is not going to get us out of the dictatorship we’re living in, but we appreciate it.

    • True Teacher says

      You ask a very good question. My parents came out of the Greatest Generation, and they had to fight against tyranny abroad and economic depression at home.

      I recall how they would do something when the government or a business or corporation engaged in–their favorite phrase–“highway robbery.” They had a sense of what was private and what was public; what was theirs and what was the people’s. But they, like so many others who were parents at the time, were civically involved and they wrote letters and reminded the public servants who the real bosses were.

      We inherited the spoils but none of the virtues, grit, values and teachings.

    • Marty McLean says

      Well, California is blatantly defying Federal Law, screaming for the state to leave the Union and taxing the workers like the money belongs to the Dems and the illegal aliens you allow them to harbor. Why should Missouri pay for Moonbeam’s violation of his oath of office?

  4. The political apparatus in this state has so effectively gamed the system in it’s own favor that they have basically legalized theft. Every time they pull the handle up comes a jackpot. If YOU are one of those people who are not voting because you think it doesn’t make a difference, think again. The difference it makes is staring you in the face.

  5. Courtney says

    Thank God. I’ve been praying for the farmers for a long time. It is amazing that people would be against a nation producing it’s own food. This land is so fertile and offers continual growing seasons that this land could feed the US and our countries. Instead of letting US farmers utilize the land, they’ve been letting other nations like the Saudi’s come in an grow crops and get water rights. Insane.

    • The question is, is it the corporate farms like Wonderful or the single family that will really benefit. Wonderful already controls the water, thanks to the inept greed of Sack of Tomatoes.

  6. Good Luck with the Communist Jerry Brown. He goes against anything that is good for Calif and the country?

  7. what is the actual impact of pumps on the delta smelt. they have survived for many years when pat brown turned them on. i suggest the feds create a pump system that could not endanger them and use that. or is it just the environmental terrorist that want the central valley to become desert again.?

  8. Stuart Woolf says

    Critics take issue with the independence of a nominee who has represented business but have NO ISSUE when they represent the environment. Where we’re all these voices when Falicia Marcus (formerly of the NRDC) became chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board? Talk about bias!

  9. Gary Von Neida says

    We all need to thank GOD that We have been blessed with Donald J.Trump—and not another chump—-as President and He may just save California from the “acid head hippie” Jerry (moon beam) Brown.

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