Trump Throws Word Salads at California Wildfire Crisis

The president offers some incendiary views on water policy and wildfires in California. Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

It’s hardly unprecedented for the president of the United States to say nonsensical or completely mendacious things on Twitter, worded strangely. But this tweet over the weekend was especially odd:

As, well, just about every expert noted immediately, you don’t stop wildfires by spraying them with water like you’d do with a house fire in a city.

For wildland firefighters, the tools of the trade are Pulaskis, rakes, shovels, and flamethrowers that burn clearings ahead of towering infernos. Instead of fire engines, they use bulldozers. Since these firefighters aren’t usually using pump trucks and fire hoses, they aren’t limited by water. When they need to snuff out an area, they often do it by air.

And to the extent California firefighters do use water, they’ve got plenty of it:

The business about water “being diverted in the Pacific Ocean” is almost too weird to mock. After all, as one tweeter noted: “Water running into the Pacific Ocean is called a river.” And it’s unclear what any of this has to do with “bad environmental laws.”

Perhaps aware that readers did not seem to understand his meaning, Trump weighed in a second time to make his complaint a personal one:

You get a mental image of Brown as some sort of mythic giant bending the course of huge cataracts of water and sending them past parched farmlands and burning forests to dribble off into the distant coastlands inhabited by the hippies and illegal immigrants who are his party’s base, in the imagination of MAGA people. But the reference to farmers does provide a hint of where Trump is getting his misinformation:

Formally known as California Water Fix, the controversial project would construct two tunnels beneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to connect freshwater from the river to aqueducts conveying water south. It’s been championed by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who is in his final year in office, but vehemently opposed by many conservation groups and other Democratic politicians.

No Republican pol is more closely associated with the demands for more water for Central Valley farmers than Trump’s staunch ally on the Russian Front, Representative Devin Nunes. But Nunes should probably explain to the president that it’s Brown’s refusal to “divert” more water to the Central Valley via dams and pumping stations that’s his main beef. Farms already account for three-fourths of California’s water consumption, and non-agricultural users have been subjected to mandatory conservation measures that exclude farmers. Yes, California Republicans (like their colleagues elsewhere) routinely demagogue about Brown and his hippies protecting useless endangered fish species instead of insatiably tapping the water that supports them. But with trout and salmon now in serious trouble, that argument seems a little less compelling than before.

Perhaps Nunes has convinced Trump that allowing water to run into the ocean is an outrage against nature, or maybe Trump is just saying thank you to his California friend for his services against the Witch Hunt and the deep state conspiracy against the president. But it’s still notable that Trump can’t bring himself even to mention a factor that virtually all of the actual experts think is contributing significantly to both the wildfire epidemic and California’s chronic droughts: climate change. Climate writer Umair Irfan nails it:

For a state like California that’s facing increasing heat and more frequent weather whiplash between extreme rain and drought, the real “bad environmental laws” worsening the situation are actually Trump’s attempts to roll back policies — like California’s Clean Air Act waiver — that would help mitigate climate change and the threat of more wildfires.

The terrible reality is that plutocratic and the “populist” strains of conservatism that find their most emphatic expression in the 45th president are indifferent or hostile toward any responsible interest in the environment. And so even wildfires become ammunition in the war on proper stewardship of resources.

What Trump’s Weird California Water Tweets Meant