Three years ago, presidential candidate Donald Trump got right to the heart of Central Valley agriculture’s fight over its most precious resource.
“We’re going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane,” Trump told a campaign audience at Selland Arena in May 2016. “It is so ridiculous where they’re taking the water and shoving it out to sea.”
Trump said the seemingly endless grind among agricultural, urban, and environmental interests over water resources would be simple to fix.
“We’re going to get it done, and we’re going to get it done quick. Don’t even think about it. That’s an easy one.”
On June 28, farmers gathered in Los Banos to ask questions of President Trump’s agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue. GV Wire took the opportunity to ask growers if they believed Trump was doing enough to bring water to farmers.
Generally, they said they like how things are progressing.
Farmers: Problems at Local, State Level
Gino Pedretti III, the Merced County Farm Bureau president and a farmer in El Nido, said water is his top issue. But he said his water problems are more with local district issues and the California Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA).
When it comes to federal regulations, Pedretti said U.S. authorities are doing the best they can.
“Where I’m situated, (the water) is locally owned. The federal government is doing the best they can on biological opinions and to deal with the state,” Pedretti said. “As far as federally, they don’t have much input with the water my family uses to farm.
“The Trump administration has been very open to helping California farmers with the water situation. There are a lot of laws and different biological opinions from the past that are hurting us. It just takes time to work through. They have been very aggressive to help agriculture out,” Pedretti said.
A precinct-level breakdown of the 2016 presidential election shows that many of the rural areas around Los Banos voted for Trump. That includes the precinct covering El Nido — about 11 miles south of Merced — which voted 65% for Trump.
Water Uncertainty Still Problematic
Aaron Barcellos of A-Bar Ag Enterprises said heavy rainfall in the last year has helped.
“Mother Nature has delivered for us the last couple of years, where we’ve had a pretty good supply of water. I know (Trump has) made it a little bit easier on the regulative side for us to get better water supply,” Barcellos said. “Water certainty is still a big question, up in the air, for us. We’re not sure what happens when we get in a drought type of years.”
That lack of certainty makes it hard to plan for the future, said Barcellos, who also cited SGMA as an issue.
Barcellos said he doesn’t agree with Trump on everything, but he appreciates the administration’s water efforts.
“I think they’re trying,” he said. “It’s a better environment for us than it has been in previous administrations.”
Trump won 62% of the vote in the precinct where A-Bar is located.
Trump Trying, but More Water Wanted
Joe Del Bosque, a westside grower of nuts, fruit, and vegetables, says that Trump is doing his part.
— Joe Del Bosque
“I think that most people would say the administration has been trying to make sure we get some water,” said Del Bosque, who in 2014 gave President Barack Obama a tour of his farm.
Still, Del Bosque would like access to more water, noting the allocation levels set by the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
“I don’t know if it has been enough. This year, we should have had 100%, where it is 75% for the westside,” he said.
The precinct that contains one of Del Bosque’s Firebaugh farm supported Hillary Clinton with 64% of the vote.