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Trump promises more water for southern Central Valley farmers

The Stockton Record logo The Stockton Record 2/20/2020 By Joshua Yeager, Visalia Times-Delta, The Record, Stockton, Calif

BAKERSFIELD — In his first visit to the Central Valley since taking office, President Donald Trump praised the southern Central Valley's farmers and blasted state water regulations that he said turn "natural droughts" into "man-made catastrophes."

"As a candidate for president, I promised to help solve the water crisis that was crippling our farmers due to chronic mismanagement and misguided policies," he said.

On Wednesday, Trump told a crowd of thousands crammed in a Bakersfield airplane hangar that he delivered on his 2016 promise to Central Valley farmers and communities.

"I am thrilled to be here today, as we take historic action on behalf of our incredible farmers, ranchers, growers, and communities across the Central Valley," he said.

Those actions revolve around new "biological opinions' that will deliver an estimated 600,000 acre-feet of water to San Joaquin Valley farmland by loosening protections for the Delta smelt, a small fish that lives in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"After years of delay, we are finally taking action to deliver water to make our land green and beautiful again," Trump said.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt stood beside Trump on the stage, surrounded by large tractors and boxes of produce grown across the Central Valley.

Bernhardt said the president directed him to "address the challenges facing the folks in the Valley and throughout the west related to water" in 2018.

"We came up with a plan to change our operations to use real-time water monitoring, better technology and provide more efficient utilization of water, so it won't be wasted," he said.

That was welcome news to Central Valley farmers, who said more water is critical if the region's agricultural roots are to survive for future generations.

"Because of the uncertainty of water deliveries, I'm worried that we may not have a family farm to pass down to my children, my niece or my nephew," said Jenny Holterman, a fourth-generation almond farmer.

Berhandt, a former attorney and consultant for the Valley's Westlands Water District, said Reps. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, were instrumental in revising and enacting the new policies.

Trump's Central Valley stop comes one day after Nunes and Bernhardt held an exclusive forum on water and irrigation policy at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, the congressman's hometown.

Several outlets, including the Visalia Times-Delta, were forbidden from attending the forum that involved cabinet members and top-level officials of public departments in a highly unusual move.

Trump also used his time to mention another Valley Republican.

The president praised David Valadao, the Hanford dairyman who was defeated by Democrat TJ Cox by fewer than 1,000 votes in 2018's closest congressional race.

"David's an incredible guy ... we really need him badly in Washington, so hopefully you'll be sending him there," Trump said.

It's unclear if the Hanford Republican's appearance will help him come November, though. California's predominantly Latino 21st district voted for Hillary Clinton by 15 points over Trump in 2016.

And since, Cox has introduced three water bills of his own.

Trump then turned his ire to California's "old science and obsolete studies" that he says hurt farmers unnecessarily.

During his stop in Bakersfield, Trump said under the Obama administration, net farm income plummeted by 20%.

According to government data, net farm income from 2015 to 2019 is up $7 billion. But during that same time span, federal farm aid has increased by $8 billion.

Actual farm income, before federal support, has dropped by $2 billion.

"I love this state like no place else. You have the most potential of anywhere, but you need the right government," Trump said to cheers and hands raised high in the air.

Last week, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom took to "The View" to tell the nation that "California is the most un-Trump state in America," a notion that thousands of Central Valley residents — decked out in MAGA hats and "drain the swamp" T-shirts — aimed to disprove Wednesday afternoon.

"Trump's my guy," Visalia resident Sharon Preston said as she sat on a box of California-grown citrus inside Bakersfield's Meadow Fields Airport, waiting for the Commander in Chief to take center stage. "The economy has blossomed since he took office."

Other attendees were simply happy to see national politicians take an interest in the Central Valley, a region of California that tends to be ignored.

McFarland High School Principal Justin Derrick and the school's Future Farmers of America chapter was invited by the president to attend the rally.

"It's important to take care of our farms and our kids, especially here in the Central Valley where many parents work in the ag field," he said. "This is a great opportunity for students to see how great America is, on both sides of the aisle."

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©2020 The Record (Stockton, Calif.)

Visit The Record (Stockton, Calif.) at www.recordnet.com

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