As wildfires continued to scorch California, President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a tweet that befuddled experts, wrongly blaming the state’s water diversions for making the blazes worse.
California’s environmental laws, he claimed, “aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!”
California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire spreading!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
While decades-old state and federal forest management strategies have been cited as exacerbating California’s wildfires in recent years, experts Sunday were quick to refute Trump’s claim that water policy was to blame.
While California’s river water is tightly managed to account for drinking, agriculture and environmental needs, it is not being diverted into the ocean. And the problem is not that the state lacks the water to fight fires, but that years of drought have made forests and brush more flammable.
“On the water side, it boggles the mind,” UC Merced professor and wildfire specialist LeRoy Westerling told the San Francisco Chronicle. “We do manage all of our rivers in California, and all the water is allocated many times over. So I’m not sure what he was recommending. . . . Even if we eliminated all habitat for riparian species and fish, and allowed saltwater intrusion into the delta and set up a sprinkler system over the state, that wouldn’t compensate for greater moisture loss from climate change.”
Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Sunday approved a federal disaster declaration for the state. Nine people have been killed by the 18 wildfires currently burning across the state. The Mendocino Complex fire north of San Francisco has grown to the fifth-largest in state history, burning almost 400 square miles by Sunday. and threatening 15,000 homes. Meanwhile, the Ferguson fire entered Yosemite National Park, which remained largely closed to visitors, and the Carr fire near Redding claimed its seventh life, when a PG&E lineman crashed his vehicle while working with crews to fight the blaze. Overall, more than 470,000 acres have burned in the state, with more than 14,000 firefighters on the front lines.