President Donald Trump waded into the Western water wars Friday, giving a boost to embattled Republican congressmen with a presidential memorandum containing deadlines for federal regulators to finish evaluating the environmental impacts of major water projects in California and the Pacific Northwest.

Trump signed the memo in Arizona with four California congressmen, including Republican Rep. Jeff Denham, who represents the northern San Joaquin Valley and is in a tight race with Josh Harder, a business teacher at Modesto Junior College. Other representatives who were at the signing include Republicans David Valadao, who represents the southern half of the Central Valley, Devin Nunes, whose district also includes the San Joaquin Valley, and Tom McClintock, whose district includes all or part of 10 counties  stretching from Placer in the north to Fresno in the south.

Those lawmakers have blasted what critics are calling a “water grab” by the California State Water Resources Control Board to re-allocate water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to help sustain endangered fish species and restore the Bay-Delta ecosystem. But that would mean less water for farmers in the state’s Central Valley, who have been sharply critical of the plan.

“This will move things along at a record clip,” Trump said at the memo signing. “And you’ll have a lot of water," he added, speaking to the congressmen standing by his side. "I hope you’ll enjoy the water you’ll have.” Trump also praised the lawmakers as "tremendous people." 

The administration said in a “fact sheet” that “expedited regulatory processes will provide certainty for California farmers who need more water to restore farmlands crippled by drought and regulation.”

Specifically, the memo directs the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to complete their reviews of the impact of flows from the Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project by June 15. The memo also directs FWS and NMFS to complete their reviews of the Klamath Irrigation Project by August 2019, and their reviews of the Federal Columbia River System by 2020.

The memo also would require the Interior and Commerce departments to work together to identify an official to coordinate the departments’ environmental reviews for each project.

Each official would then identify “regulations and procedures that potentially burden the project and develop a proposed plan … to appropriately suspend, revise, or rescind any regulations or procedures that unduly burden the project beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law,” the memo said.  

“From my perspective, today’s action might be the most significant action taken by a president on Western water in my lifetime,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said on a call with reporters before the signing.

In a statement, Denham, Valadao, McClintock and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, another Californian, hailed the president’s memo, calling it “an immense relief for the farmers and families of the San Joaquin Valley and communities across California.”

“Due to the actions of environmental extremists and overzealous bureaucrats, California has been suffering from a years-long water crisis that has wreaked havoc in Central Valley farming communities that feed tens of millions of Americans,” they said. “Productive land has gone fallow and farmworkers have lost their jobs. Communities across California have also been devastated as senseless government regulations have mandated that billions of gallons of water be flushed out to the ocean and wasted.

“Now, with this executive action, there is a strict timetable for rewriting the biological opinions that lie at the root of the water crisis,” the congressmen said. “This executive action also prioritizes building critical projects to expand water storage in our state so that we can store more water during wet years for use in dry years.”

But Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, said  that “the real water grab is what Congressman Denham is inflicting on the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.” She said Denham “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.”

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