Media Condemn Trump For Claiming “There Is No Drought” In California

Media figures condemned presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for claiming that “there is no drought” in California, noting that Trump ignored “obvious symptoms of a severe drought” and calling his statement “beneath contempt,” “pandering,” and “plainly wrong.”

Trump Says California’s Drought Is A Myth, Blames Conservation Efforts For Water Crisis

AP: Trump Told California Voters “There Is No Drought.” Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump told audience members at a May 27 rally in Fresno, California, that he could resolve the state’s water shortage. Associated Press’ Jim Colvin and Ellen Knickmeyer reported Trump told the audience “there is no drought” and suggested that state officials are pushing water into the sea “to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish”:

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump told California voters Friday that he can solve their water crisis, declaring, “There is no drought.”

California is, in fact, in midst of a drought. Last year capped the state's driest four-year period in its history, with record low rainfall and snow.

Speaking at a rally in Fresno, Calif., Trump accused state officials of denying water to Central Valley farmers so they can send it out to sea “to protect a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

“We're going to solve your water problem. You have a water problem that is so insane. It is so ridiculous where they're taking the water and shoving it out to sea,” Trump said at a rally that drew thousands.


“They don't understand — nobody understands it,” he said, declaring at one point: “There is no drought. They turn the water out into the ocean.”

Trump appeared to be referring to disputes over water that runs from the Sacramento River to the San Francisco Bay and then to the ocean. Some farmers want more of that flow captured and diverted to them.[Associated Press, 5/27/16]

Media Push Back: “Experts Beg To Differ.”

Wash. Post's Catherine Rampell: “Trump Ignores … Obvious Symptoms Of A Severe Drought.” Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell criticized Trump for having “the gall” to claim that California’s drought was “a figment of voters’ imaginations” and for blaming the “entire water shortage on an environmental program to save a fish.” Rampell labeled the assertion “the latest battleground in Trump’s war on data,” noting that Trump ignored “obvious symptoms of severe drought.” From the May 30 article:

At an event in Fresno on Friday, the presumptive Republican nominee had the gall to declare that California’s severe four-year drought was a figment of voters’ imaginations.

Never mind the record-low levels of Sierra snowpack last year, which, through runoff, provide about a third of the water used by the state’s cities and farms. Never mind that snowpack conditions across California stand at 29 percent of their normal levels. Never mind that the last two years were California’s hottest on record.

Never mind that there were record numbers of acres claimed by wildfires and of tree deaths nationwide last year, in large part because of years of dry conditions out west.

Nope. Trump ignores all these obvious symptoms of severe drought. Instead, he blames the state’s entire water shortage on an environmental program to save a fish.

Note that Trump was not merely criticizing the government’s response to a natural-resource scarcity (as have many on both left and right); he was claiming there was no scarcity to begin with.

Quoth Trump: “There is no drought,” further explaining that the water shortage is just a manufactured crisis created by a pro-environmentalist conspiracy.

This attack on empiricism is not exactly an unusual stance for the presumptive Republican nominee. [The Washington Post, 5/30/16]

The Atlantic's James Fallows: Trump’s Water Crisis Approach Is “Beneath Contempt.” The Atlantic’s James Fallows described Trump’s drought comments as “the way a shallow narcissist sounds if he knows nothing about the issue, doesn’t care to learn, and is just shooting off his mouth with the latest thing he heard.” Fallows went on to call Trump’s approach to the issue “beneath contempt.” From the May 27 article:

Everything about life in California has been affected by the drought. Governor Jerry Brown has turned to it in all of his recent State of the State messages, both as an emergency to confront and as a parable for the state’s future.


Here, by contrast, is the way a shallow narcissist sounds if he knows nothing about the issue, doesn’t care to learn, and is just shooting off his mouth with the latest thing he heard[.]


As Jerry Brown pointed out in his speech, there is a tradeoff between environmental and immediate economic interests, when it comes to managing water or other natural resources. (To provide enough river flow for fish to survive, some water is sent straight to the sea, in streams and rivers, rather than being diverted for irrigation or residential/commercial use.) But as Brown also pointed out, the farmer-vs-fisherman tension isn’t the real problem — very much as immigration is not the real problem when we wrestle with the rich-vs-poor economy or the stagnation of median incomes.

That’s something a real leader has the intelligence and discipline to understand, and the backbone to try to explain. The way Trump has approached this issue is beneath contempt. [The Atlantic, 5/27/16]

Newsweek’s Ryan Bort: Trump Is “Pandering” By Telling Californians “Their Ongoing Drought Does Not Actually Exist.” Newsweek’s Ryan Bort reported in a May 28 article that, contrary to Trump’s statements, California in fact has suffered a drought since 2011, reaching “debilitating levels” in 2014 and 2015. Bort wrote that Trump’s drought denial was the latest instance of his “pandering to the fears of populace after populace.” From the May 28 article :

Donald Trump has spent primary season traveling the country, pandering to the fears of populace after populace. He's told the working-class people of Indiana he'd do away with outsourcing. He told the people of North Dakota, America's second-leading producer of oil, he'd do away with energy regulations. And now, with the California primary a week away, he's told the people of the nation's most populous state that their ongoing drought does not actually exist.


Though California's drought hasn't been as severe in 2016, it has indeed existed since 2011, reaching debilitating levels in 2014 and 2015. In early May, Governor Jerry Brown signed an executive order to “bolster the state’s drought resilience and preparedness by establishing longer-term water conservation measures.” The order lays out several long-term conservation measures so the state will be able to withstand future contingencies related to water supply.

Trump, however, doesn't find the issue to be so complicated. “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,” he assured supporters.

When you're on the Trump train, sometimes it's just as easy as that. [Newsweek, 5/28/16]

SFGate: “Experts Beg To Differ” With Trump’s Drought Claims. San Fransico news website SFGate reported that “state water experts paint a much different picture” of California’s water crisis than Trump does. SFGate reported that experts say that California “is very much in the middle of a crisis” and that one told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Whoever is elected [president] next … will be sorely lacking in guts if they don’t take this issue on.” From the May 30 article:

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee took on water-rights issues in a speech in Fresno on Friday, explaining the state's complicated delta issues thusly: “There is no drought. They turn the water out into the ocean.”

Trump was likely referring to water-rights disputes along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and efforts to protect the Delta smelt, or as Trump called it, “a certain kind of three-inch fish.”

State water experts [...] say the state is very much in the middle of a crisis, with many powerful indicators, like Lake Mead sitting at 37 percent capacity.

“If that isn't an alarm bell going off, I don't know what would be,” Stanford University historian David Kennedy, a scholar at the university's Bill Lane Center for the American West, told the Chronicle. “Whoever is elected next — the next several presidents actually — will be sorely lacking in guts if they don't take this issue on.” [SFGate, 5/30/16]

Slate’s Phil Plait: “To Believe There’s Plenty Of Water In California,” You Have To Be “Completely, Utterly Oblivious To Reality.” Slate’s Phil Plait wrote that 95 percent of California is at least “abnormally dry” and that to believe otherwise “you’d either have to be a cactus or completely, utterly oblivious to reality.” Trump’s claim that California has “plenty” of water, Plait added, is “just more of the lies he’s peddling”:

Where to even start with something so bizarrely nonsensical? To believe there’s plenty of water in California you’d either have to be a cactus or completely, utterly oblivious to reality. Because that’s grossly wrong. Grotesquely wrong.


California is suffering a massive drought, and has been for years. [...] 95 percent of the state is at least abnormally dry, and over 20 percent is having an “exceptional drought”. That’s better than last year when over 40 percent of the state was exceptionally dry; a better snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas this year has helped in northern California somewhat. Still, many of the reservoirs are below average levels; some far below, and the southern part of the state is in dire straits (so to speak). Things are not good, and projections show the drought will persist through at least August. Probably far longer.

So Trump’s claim that there’s plenty of water is just more of the lies he’s peddling. [Slate, 5/30/16]

MSNBC’s Steve Benen: Trump Is “Plainly Wrong” About California Drought. MSNBC’s Steve Benen criticized Trump for claiming that there is no drought in California and for suggesting “a simple solution that wouldn’t actually resolve a complex problem.” Benen called Trump’s statement “plainly wrong” and wrote that, “when one does think about it,” Trump’s “rhetoric starts to sound like gibberish.” From the May 31 post:

As it turns out, those last five words – “don’t even think about it” – represented an important request, because when one does think about it, the presidential hopeful’s rhetoric starts to sound like gibberish. Indeed, using exceedingly charitable language, BuzzFeed’s report noted in response, “It was unclear how exactly Trump would deliver on his water promises.”

How very polite. The trouble is, Trump is apparently under the impression that there is no drought – a belief that’s plainly wrong – which is made worse by the fact that he also believes he can impose a simple solution that wouldn’t actually resolve a complex problem.


The Republican presidential candidate speaks with great confidence about his unique ability to solve any problem, despite having no idea what he’s talking about. It’s one thing to be ignorant; it’s something else entirely for someone who is ignorant to convince himself of his own vast and imaginary knowledge. [MSNBC, 5/31/16]

LA Times Previously Explained Why The Policy Trump Attacked Is Necessary For Californian Communities

LA Times: Claims Of A “Man-Made Drought” Due To Environmental Regulations Are Based On An “Imagined ‘People Versus Fish’ Scenario.” The Los Angeles Times previously explained the need to protect the endangered delta smelt, debunking the “people versus fish” scenario asserted by Trump. The Times explained in 2014 that maintaining the smelt’s ecosystem is essential for protecting groundwater resources in nearby regions. From the Times:

In their imagined “people versus fish” scenario, towns are going dry and growers are going out of business because crazy environmentalists are hogging water to protect an obscure fish, the delta smelt. Water that could irrigate fields and keep people working is instead being kept in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and flushed into the ocean.

What they don't like to point out is that without that supposed flush pushing out into the Pacific, seawater would continue to intrude farther into the delta, leaving only useless salty brine to pump into canals and onto fields -- and then where would the growers and the rest of us be? Without restoring the dry stretch of the San Joaquin River, there can be no recharging of Central Valley towns' groundwater supplies and no hope that the river will rescue orchards and cities with southern Sierra snowmelt in the event global climate change forever reduces levels of snowfall in the mountains to the north. And as for the smelt, the Endangered Species Act protects not only that fish but all of us, by holding together the fragile environmental web we rely on. [Los Angeles Times, 2/3/14