Fire and Water in California

The state spends 10 times more on electric car subsidies than on dead tree clearing.

 
 

Firefighters with Cal Fire rush into a field in High Valley near the town of Clearlake Oaks in California to fight spot fires from the Ranch Fire, Aug. 5.
Firefighters with Cal Fire rush into a field in High Valley near the town of Clearlake Oaks in California to fight spot fires from the Ranch Fire, Aug. 5. PHOTO: MARK MCKENNA/ZUMA PRESS
 

Liberals exploit natural disasters—drought, hurricane, blizzard, you name it—to promote their anti-fossil fuels agenda. Yet now they’re outraged that President Trump is daring to fight fire with fire by making a connection between California’s wildfires and destructive green policies.

The President on Sunday tweeted that “bad environmental laws” are magnifying California’s horrific wildfires by not “allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.” He added, “Tree clear to stop fire spreading!,” and on Monday he complained that “vast amounts of water” were being “diverted into the Pacific Ocean” that could be used for “fires, farming and everything else.”

 

As usual when Mr. Trump fires his scattergun, he hits deserving and undeserving targets. The state firefighting agency Cal Fire says it has plenty of water to battle the 16 or so large blazes that have broken out across the state in recent weeks, killing seven people and consuming a half million acres. But every gallon of water used to extinguish fires won’t be available for Californians amid a severe water shortage, which has been exacerbated by wasteful environmental policies.

The Westlands Water District reported last month that pumping restrictions at the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that are ostensibly intended to protect smelt and salmon had resulted in 151,000 acre-feet of water—enough to sustain nearly a half million households annually—lost to the Pacific Ocean in June. The state Water Resources Control Board last month proposed additional restrictions on water deliveries. While most major wildfires this season have been in the north due to heavy winds, lower levels of irrigation in the Central Valley and Southern California contribute to drier, more combustible land conditions.

Governor Jerry Brown keeps lecturing Californians that they need to adapt to a new “climate normal,” yet the state government has done little to prepare for warmer and drier times if that is the future. Lawmakers instead have subordinated fire prevention to pleasing the green lobby.

Nearly 130 million trees in the state have died from drought, providing fuel for fast-spreading fires, and about half of the state’s 33 million acres of forestland needs restoration. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state oversight agency, explained in a February report that “a century of fire suppression remains firmly entrenched within federal and state firefighting agencies and has left forest floors deep in flammable groundcover.”

The commission added: “Plans for prescribed burning to rid the forests of dense groundcover often clash with regional air quality regulations, even as emissions from catastrophic wildfires nullify hard-fought carbon reduction,” and disputes between the timber industry and environmentalists “hinder policy goals to thin overgrown forests to their original conditions.”

Another challenge is state politicians who’d rather spend money on green pork. This year the Democratic legislature appropriated a mere $30 million of cap-and-trade revenues for fuel reductions on 60,000 acres of forest land. They allocated $335 million for electric vehicle subsidies. Democrats have also spent billions on high-speed rail, but only this year did they get around to appropriating $101 million to replace a dozen or so Vietnam War-era helicopters unequipped with modern technology that enables night-flying for fire-fighting.

Imagine the damage that could have been averted—and lives saved—if the state had replaced the antiques earlier and cleared millions of dead trees in lieu of building the train whose costs are careening toward $100 billion and may never be finished. But instead of examining their own priorities, the state’s politicians will blame the damaging fires on climate change and Donald Trump.

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