As fires grow to historic sizes in California, President Trump tweeted that the state is “foolishly” diverting “vast amounts of water from the North” into the Pacific Ocean instead of using them to fight its wildfires. The state’s “bad environmental laws” are to blame, he added.
The tweets baffled state officials, who quickly pointed out that water supplies are not the problem.
“Let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires,” said Cal Fire spokesman Mike Mohler.
Scott McLean, also a Cal Fire spokesman, said he doesn’t understand the president’s comments.
“I was surprised like everybody else,” he told The Washington Post’s Dino Grandoni.
California has been ravaged by destructive and deadly wildfires burning up and down the state. In rural areas up north, what began as two small fires more than a week ago have grown to form the Mendocino Complex Fire, a massive and still-growing inferno that has charred an area almost the size of Los Angeles. Within hours Monday, the blaze became the largest fire in California history, surpassing the Thomas Fire that burned two counties last year and the Cedar Fire that killed 15 people 15 years ago.
As that blaze and more than a dozen others burn across the Golden State, the president — who hasn’t said anything about wildfire victims, including those who died — weighed in by criticizing California policies and politics. The tweets puzzled not only the state officials but also scientists, who said that Trump not only failed to address human-caused climate change but also seemed to confuse the completely separate issues of fire protection and water management.
Water management has been a long-standing issue in California, where diversion of water from rivers and into agricultural lands has allowed farmers to flourish but destroyed fish habitats.
That’s a different issue from fire management, experts say, and there’s no shortage of water in the areas where wildfires are happening. For example, the Mendocino Complex Fire is burning near the expansive Clear Lake. Farther north, the Carr Fire is surrounded by multiple bodies of water from different directions: Shasta Lake to the east, Trinity Lake to the west and the Sacramento River snaking across the nearby city of Redding, to name a few.
John Abatzoglou, a University of Idaho climatologist, called the tweets “confusing, if not completely incoherent” in an interview with The Post’s Sarah Kaplan.
Peter Gleick, a hydrologist and founder of the Pacific Institute think tank, has been debunking the president’s claims with one blistering tweet after another:
The president’s comments came shortly after his administration approved a request from California Gov. Jerry Brown for a presidential major-disaster declaration, which would help fire victims in fire-ravaged Shasta County in the northern part of the state.
Asked to comment about the president’s tweets, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup was dismissive: “This does not merit a response.”
Sarah Kaplan contributed to this article.