President Donald Trump is claiming that California’s water policy is shortchanging firefighters of water to battle the state’s raging wildfires. That’s not so, according to wildfire and water experts.
A look at his tweets and the facts behind them:
TRUMP: “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!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: That’s not what state experts say.
“We have plenty of water” for battling the massive blazes burning in hills north of San Francisco, said Scott McLean, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The current spate of wildfires happens to be within range of large Northern California lakes and the state’s biggest river, McLean said.
Nor is having enough water a problem in battling California wildfires in general. Firefighting aircraft can dip in and out of cattle ponds or other small bodies of water to scoop up water for dropping and spraying on flames. When fires burn in an area that happens to be without ponds, lakes or rivers, state officials typically call in more planes to ferry in water, McLean said.
California’s battles over divvying up water in the arid state are unending, but a battle between firefighters and the Pacific Ocean hasn’t been one of them, according to Jay Lund, a civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Davis, and a longtime analyst of the state’s water wars.
Trump’s claim “is so physically impossible, you don’t even really want to respond,” Lund said.
For one thing, the wildfires are in the hills, far from the Pacific Ocean and from the man-made storage and distribution system that carries water from California’s wetter north to the drier, more populated south.
The state’s recently ended five-year drought killed millions of trees, leaving them as brittle fuel for wildfires. As Trump alluded to in his tweet, experts have urged state and federal forestry officials to move quickly in clearing swathes of dead forests because of their added fire danger. The dry, hot weather that climate change brings adds to the dried tinder and risk.
“It might have something to do with forest management and the drought. But it has nothing to do with water policy,” Lund said.