Mexican immigrants haul out water hoses on a sweet potato farm in California’s 10th Congressional District.
Trump slammed the Golden State, which has suffered through more than five years of severe drought that ended only last year, for sending its water out to sea rather than using it to nourish crops.
Trump’s speech was just small part of a deluge of activity from the president and his deputies in recent months aimed at eventually delivering more water to farms in California’s Central Valley — and, in the near term, buoying the prospects of Republicans here running for reelection in Tuesday’s midterms.
For decades, farmers in the Central Valley have found themselves knotted in a tug-of-war with coastal residents over how much of California’s finite water supply should be divided among sating city dwellers, supplying habitat for river critters and cultivating crops.
As if on cue, Trump waded into the debate last month during his speech by singling out an endangered fish — the three-inch delta smelt — for ridicule because California wanted to divert water from the Central Valley to protect it.
With Republicans currently holding about a half-dozen vulnerable seats in California, according to the Cook Political Report, Democrats believe their path to recapturing the House runs, like San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers that have made the Central Valley into an agricultural powerhouse, right through the Golden State.
Both Denham and Harder oppose a state plan to flush more water down Central Valley rivers to help sustain endangered river fish.
But ahead of the election it has been California’s Republican delegation in Congress that has marshaled the power of the federal government to try to bring more water to the Central Valley.
In October, 18 days before Election Day, Trump pledged to “eliminate all unnecessary burdens” on water supply in California and other Western states.
The president signed a memorandum telling federal agencies to find regulations to cut and to swiftly approve environmental reviews for the canals and dams that supply water to the Central Valley.
“Finally, after all these years he passed through a mandate to provide water infrastructure in the Western United States,” said David Phippen, a third-generation almond grower in Manteca who supports Denham.
The latest water struggle involves the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is set to decide whether to allow more water to flow through the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
Instead, Denham helped bring three Trump Cabinet officials — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and acting Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler — to the Central Valley in recent months to tour reservoirs and talk with growers.
Almond farmers like Phippen, who oppose what they call the state’s “water grab,” are sensitive to perceptions that they grow a thirsty crop.
During the height of the drought California’s almond industry lamented what became an oft-heard statistic: That it takes about one gallon of water to produce a single almond.
The Denham campaign counters by casting Denham, a former venture capitalist, as “Bay Area Harder” after failing to attend a Sacramento rally against the state’s “water grab.”
The Republican’s camp also tried to use Harder’s endorsement from the League of Conservation Voters, which is spending about $100,000 in get-out-the-vote efforts for Harder, against him after the group derided Trump’s water memo as “a political stunt.”
But the coup de grace for Denham was Trump’s signature in October on a water infrastructure bill the congressman helped write.
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