Capitol Alert

Hillary Clinton steers clear of water controversy in Fresno

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends an event, Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Santa Barbara, Calif.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton attends an event, Saturday, June 4, 2016, in Santa Barbara, Calif. AP

Touching down in Fresno one week ago, Donald Trump offered a standard Republican critique of California’s water shortage – that it is, as legions of roadside banners here proclaim, the “man-made” result of environmental policies restricting water flows.

Then he barreled further, declaring “there is no drought.”

But if exaggeration is Trump’s style, Hillary Clinton’s would appear to be avoidance.

The Democratic presidential frontrunner, campaigning in Fresno on Saturday, localized her longstanding criticism of Trump’s plan to deport undocumented immigrants living in the United States, pledging to make sure “that 1.2 million farmworkers in California will not be rounded up and deported.”

She also praised a region “where we see such productive agriculture” and said that, if elected, “We’re going get to work on water.”

But in a high school gymnasium in the heart of the drought-stricken Valley, Clinton once again steered clear of significant controversies surrounding water deliveries in the state.

Her appearance, with temperatures outside still hovering above 100 degrees, came several months after U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressional Republicans asked President Obama to increase the volume of water pumped from the Delta to the south. Federal regulators have said pumping restrictions are necessary to protect endangered species of Delta fish.

For Trump and other Republicans, the issue has been an easy call. Speaking at the California Republican Party’s convention in late April, before dropping out of the presidential race, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, mocked environmental protections for the Delta smelt, saying “three-inch fish go great with cheese and crackers.”

His short-time running mate, Carly Fiorina, blasted the “tyranny of the left, the tyranny of environmentalists.”

But for Democrats seeking to appeal both to environmentalists and conservative Democrats in the Central Valley, the issue has proved trickier.

Earlier this week, Bernie Sanders said he had not studied the issue. Meanwhile, Clinton has not taken a position.

Speaking on NBC4’s “News Conference” program last month, she said she has followed the California drought “from afar.”

But of proposals to increase water pumping, she said, “I’m not going to prejudge anything.”

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders