California Gov. Newsom Picks Fish Over Farms

Newsom is leaning on the side of fish in the state's never-ending fish v. people debate, but is at least trying to deal with farm and urban water needs.


When a union president was asked about his end goal in negotiations with his members' employers, he responded with: "More." No matter the proposal, he always demanded more of whatever was being offered to his union.

I thought of that cynical retort when looking at the latest battle over water flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta—the tangled web of rivers, sloughs and marshland that supplies fresh water to millions of Southern Californians. When it comes to water supplies, environmentalists always demand "more" water for habitat preservation—they're never satisfied with any compromise proposal.

Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration has given environmentalists much of what they presumably want as it released a 610-page draft Delta environmental report recently that calls for $1.5 billion in habitat restoration among other environmental projects. The governor simultaneously announced a lawsuit against the Trump administration to halt its plan to increase federal water exports to thirsty farms located south of the Delta.

He's leaning on the side of fish in the state's never-ending fish v. people debate, but is at least trying to deal with farm and urban water needs. The last thing the administration wants is a crisis of water availability in the midst of the ongoing electricity crisis. But as much as they cheered the lawsuit announcement, environmentalists were aghast at the report because the state plan will allow some additional water for farms.

There's no pleasing them. An attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council slammed the report as "Trump lite." Others were more circumspect, but urged Newsom to take on the state's big water users. Anything short of more water for unrestricted river flows simply won't do.

This particular battle goes back to 2018, when the Trump administration announced its plan to increase water deliveries to farmers. Federal scientists released an 1,123-page biological opinion arguing that the water diversions would threaten Chinook salmon. The administration called it a draft and then in October released its final opinions that justified the additional water releases.

The state runs the State Water Project and the feds run the Central Valley Project, so the bifurcated authority complicates the situation. The feds' final plan allowed more water flows when it was safe to do so, but also enabled reduced pumping when fish species were most in need of the water. It was hardly radical, but congressional Democrats slammed it as a scheme to divert water to "politically connected irrigation interests" and obliterate fish.

Earlier this year, Newsom drew the ire of environmentalists when he vetoed Senate Bill 1, which would have required state agencies to adopt any federal environmental restriction that had been weakened or eliminated at the federal level. He opposed the bill because it threatened voluntary water agreements among water users, agencies and officials, which were being hashed out since the Brown administration. Those negotiations would have collapsed had SB 1 become law.

Most of the state's water simply flows out unimpeded to the Pacific Ocean. Since the completion of the State Water Project, California's population has grown dramatically—yet the state has not built adequate storage to capture and store water during wet years. To make matters worse, state officials have thrown obstacles in front of every project designed to feed more water into our statewide plumbing systems.

The state has opposed raising the Shasta Dam because of concerns about a small, wild river nearby. The California Coastal Commission has balked at a desalination plant at Huntington Beach over concerns about plankton. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has been gunning for the environmentally friendly Cadiz project in the Mojave Desert, which would tap an aquifer the size of Rhode Island and send water into the Colorado River Aqueduct to supply Southern California water users. That project has passed many levels of environmental review.

And Newsom has threatened the future of the Delta tunnel plan by cutting it down from two tunnels to one, which imperils its economic viability. That project seeks to address both key issues—fish habitat and human uses. Currently, river water gets tangled in the messy estuary, where regulators shut down the pumps near Tracy anytime they find endangered smelt in the fish screens. The project, funded by water users rather than general taxpayers, would restore the degraded estuary's habitat to permanently boost fish populations and then re-route the southward-bound water under the region.

Environmentalists offer no solution other than flush more water into rivers as people conserve more, even though nonnative fish species such as striped bass are the biggest threat to salmon. They also propose multimillion-dollar schemes to build fish ladders and other contraptions to save a few fish—often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars per fish.

Californians need "more," also—more water storage and a more sensible water policy. Unfortunately, the administration's latest efforts, and the environmental response to them, probably means less of both.

This column was first published in the Orange County Register.

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  1. He's leaning on the side of fish in the state's never-ending fish v. people debate, but is at least trying to deal with farm and urban water needs.

    And people wonder why there is a recall petition for this guy? Seriously?

  2. This article needed more incest. That's the only way to make CA water issues compelling.

  3. If you truly want to destroy the environment, let liberal activists attempt to manage ecosystems. They have been the cause of more harm than almost anybody. See wolf populations in Yellowstone as a glaring example.

    For some reason the anti science left doesnt actually believe in the idea of evolution or the fact that ecosystems change and species adapt. They truly believe everything should remain completely static.

    1. The only thing the left believes in is left-directed evolution, whether it be facts, humans, trees, fish, or plankton.

    2. They truly believe everything should remain completely static.

      That's ultimately the driving force behind climate change hysteria--the idea that the Earth's whole ecosystem should be forever preserved in amber (but only if the regulations don't affect the exurban McMansion or downtown loft that we're living in).

  4. Is there a gofundme account set up to fund buying arms for environmentalists and Californians? Because that is a war I'd really enjoy seeing...

    1. Like either of those groups would handle guns.

  5. never-ending fish v. people debate

    No, the "fish" are a red herring (npi). If it weren't fish, it would be something else - it's really just anti-human crazies v. normal people. The environmental extremists truly do believe that humans are a cancer upon the Earth and the best thing that could happen to save the planet is for humans to go extinct. Starting with everybody else, of course. As they say, a developer is somebody who wants to build a cabin atop a mountain, an environmentalist is somebody who already owns a cabin atop a mountain. Saving the fish is just a convenient excuse for telling everybody else to fuck off and die, doing evil while smugly and self-righteously patting themselves on the back for their saintliness.

    1. It's also about California's fucked-up system of water rights. We have a handful of farmers in the Delta with seniority rights going back to Spanish times who dump millions and millions of gallons of water into the Delta every year in order to keep those rights (which are usage-based).

      It isn't about anything any more ideological than controlling the flow of water by any means or any excuse necessary. It's the single most important unspoken thing in California politics.

    2. There are normal people in CA?

  6. There's no pleasing them. An attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council slammed the report as "Trump lite."

    Well, Don Jr. is sleeping with Newsome’s ex-wife.

  7. To make matters worse, state officials have thrown obstacles in front of every project designed to feed more water into our statewide plumbing systems.

    I heard one of the recent proposals was to run a water pipeline from Lake Superior to there. These people are truly insane.

    1. In Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner talked about some trans-national water project fever dream some wonks had thought up that would be designed to transport water north from Canada to the US.

      I think the fundamental problem here is that most of SoCal in particular (and a lot of the trans-Mississippi urban areas in general) was built in an area that never had the environmental capability to hold millions of people, just due to the lack of water. Pretty much every water project that's been built in the American West since the turn of the late 1800s has been done in the service of making the unnatural, natural by delivering water from where it's supposed to flow to where it's actually needed.

      1. Sorry, meant to say from the north in Canada to the US.

      2. This is true. Surveys that were done in the 1840s declared there would never be more than maybe 20-30,000 people in the LA basin because of the lack of water. That was before they figured out how to drain Mono Lake.

        But it's also worth noting, in the context of these politics, that the Los Angeles, San Gabriel, and Santa Ana rivers haven't flowed into the sea in many decades, and no one cares. I mean literally no one.

  8. The fucking California coast can't get destroyed by an earthquake soon enough. The earth swallowing these people up would go a long way to improving both the state and the country as a whole.

    1. see you down in Arizona Bay.

  9. Praise for Gov. Newsom! The more he favors the fish over people the less of a reason for people to stay there. The more advantage for the people to move to other places the less the state's tax base will be. The lower the tax base is the sooner the people that remain will either be taxed out of existence or be living on government entitlements and the more the working people will have to be taxes. This in itself will cause more people to leave. Which in the end this progressive paradise will fail and take down the idiocy that is there.

  10. It all started with the snail darter - - - - - - -

  11. #1 use for water in California, is the sacred purpose of dumping it into the Pacific.

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