Wading into wetlands and water supply

Arial view of Sacramento River and San Joaquin River Delta.
Arial view of Sacramento River and San Joaquin River Delta. Photo by Bill_Dally via iStock

Biden is wading into a morass of water deregulation and rollbacks left by the outgoing administration. 

Among them is the move to exclude many wetlands and streams from federal protection against pollution and development under the Clean Water Act. Trump ridiculed them as puddles and ditches, and the oil and gas industry, builders and farmers have long sought a relaxation of federal rules.

California has its own wetlands and pollution protections. But state officials say the federal rule change leaves water that the state relies on for drinking, agriculture, wildlife and recreation vulnerable to upstream pollution from other states.  

Then there’s a longstanding fight over how much water should be diverted from Northern California’s rivers and piped hundreds of miles to supply drinking water and irrigate millions of acres of Central Valley farmland

Trump pledged to send more water to Central Valley farmers, and reportedly quashed a federal report that found doing so would harm endangered species. Instead, the administration adopted two federal permits that California officials said do not adequately protect species or sensitive habitats.

California has pushed back with lawsuits. And Biden has directed his administration to review wetlands protections and the two federal permits underlying state and federal water allocation decisions. But it’s unclear how quickly we’ll see action on these fronts: California’s water wars are notoriously complicated, particularly during what could become a multi-year drought