The Trump administration says that water in California should be prioritized for wildfire response instead of endangered species protections, even though state officials deny the president’s comments that the state doesn’t have enough water to fight the fires.
The Department of Commerce announced a directive on Wednesday that says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is taking over management of water in California in areas affected by the ongoing fires.
The directive specifically says that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Marine Fisheries Service, will take over management of water during the wildfire emergency in California. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed the Service to tell other federal agencies “the protection of life and property takes precedence over any current agreements regarding the use of water in the areas of California affected by wildfires.”
“Today I directed the National Marine Fisheries Service to facilitate access to the water needed to fight the ongoing wildfires affecting the State of California. One of the fires, the Mendocino Complex Fire, has developed into the largest in the state’s history, consuming nearly 300,000 acres in Northern California. American lives and property are at stake and swift action is needed,” Ross said in a statement.
President Donald Trump tweeted earlier this week that California didn’t have enough water to fight the wildfires, but California’s fire agency said they had plenty of water.
The National Marine Fisheries Service works with California Fish and Wildlife to protect the delta smelt, a small fish that is seen as an indicator of the health of fish in rivers in central California, and Chinook salmon. The agencies work to reduce the amount of water that is removed from the rivers to protect the fish population.
Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross issued a directive on Wednesday telling the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal agencies to prioritize “the protection of life and property” over endangered species in the areas of California affected by wildfires, saying that public safety takes precedence.
Under the Endangered Species Act says that NOAA can expedite the decision-making process between agencies in the case of an emergency.
The directive says that NOAA, which runs the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Commerce Department, are committed to finding “new solutions to address threatened and endangered species in the context of the challenging water management situation in California.”
Kate Poole, senior director of the water division at the Natural Resources Defense Council, tweeted that the decision will weaken protections for salmon in California.