"We're going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee told a crowd filled with farmers in Fresno. "It is so ridiculous where they're taking the water and shoving it out to sea."
California is now in its fifth year of drought, which has taken a heavy toll on agriculture in particular. Despite an El Niño event that saw an increase last year in snowpacks that supply about one-third of California’s water, 86 percent of the state is still considered to be in drought.
Trump insinuated that state officials are mismanaging water policy, at the cost of farmers and their crops. Farmers have sharply criticized the state’s irrigation policies, after cuts to water allotments forced them to leave more than a million acres of farmland uncultivated last year.
Water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, which flows into the San Francisco Bay and onto the ocean, has been a particularly contentious issue. The delta is a key source of water to cities and farms in California’s fertile Central Valley region. Some farmers there claim politicians are bending to environmental interests and prioritizing the habitat of fish and wetlands over farmland, creating a "man-made drought."
Trump aligned with those concerns Friday when he said state officials and environmentalists are trying "to protect a three-inch fish," presumably referring to the threatened Delta smelt.
"If I win, believe me, we’re going to start opening up the water, so that you can have your farmers survive so that your job market will get better," the reality TV personality told the cheering crowd.
Trump said he had listened to farmers before the rally and many feel that the real reason they aren’t getting water is because it is being diverted to the sea. Scientists are concerned that the drought and water diversions away from the estuary could push the smelt to extinction, and imperil other wildlife. As it has federal protections, officials have tipped more water toward the smelt’s habitat, which eventually runs into the ocean. Former Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz suggested when he sided with farmers this month that officials should just play music to increase the smelt’s libido, rather than send it more water.
"They don’t understand it," Trump said. "There is no drought, they turn the water out into the ocean."
He did not go into detail about how officials would open up the water, nor what science supports the claim that the drought is not real. But he did tout himself as a champion of the environment.
"I've received many, many environmental rewards, really. Rewards and awards," Trump said. "I have done very well environmentally. I'm all for it."
"My environmental standard is very simple, I’ve said it to everybody," he added. "I want clean water. Clean air, clean water."
The businessman was campaigning in California ahead of the state’s June 7 primary.
His dubious environmental claims come after he tapped Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a drilling advocate and climate change skeptic, as his energy advisor this month. And he has vowed to renegotiate the Paris climate agreement. Trump said on Thursday he would throw out a "tremendous number" of federal regulations -- "probably 75 percent of which are absolutely terrible."