MODESTO, CALIF. – When County officials from California landed across the country last month to hear President Trump speak in the White House, they heard an ear about the commander-in-chief.
Trump beat Golden State, which had been suffering a severe drought for more than five years, ending last year because it sent its water into the sea instead of using it for harvest. He rejected the view that the idea that the state had survived a historic dry spell had threatened and that federal funding would be held back.
"California, get in," Trump concluded. "Because we will not give you any more money."
For many, Trump's commentary was just another crawl misstep. Scientists have said California was suffering from a drought – one of the worst ever recorded.
Trump's speech was only a small part of a spate of presidential and deputy activities over the last few months aimed at providing more water to Central Valley's farms – and in the near future, Republicans standing for re-election, put on Tuesday lunchtime.
For decades, farmers in the Central Valley have been involved in a tug-of-war with coastal residents on how California's finite water supply is divided among saddling city dwellers, providing habitat for river dwellers and attracting crops. The emergency emergency, which Governor Jerry Brown (D) declared official in 2017, worsened tensions.
With the California state government tightly controlled by urban Democrats, Californian almond, walnut, dairy and wine producers are increasingly turning to the federal government after the Republicans overtook the White House in 2017.
As if on cue, Trump came into the debate during his speech last month when he ridiculed a vulnerable fish – the 3-inch Delta Delta – because California wanted to derive water from the Central Valley to protect it.
"It's very bad," said Trump last month. "Nobody knows what a melt is. I still do not know what a melt is. "
With California Republicans holding about half a dozen vulnerable seats, according to the Cook Political Report, Democrats believe they are on their way to reconquest the house, as did the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers that made the Central Valley an agricultural powerhouse
None of the resident Republicans in the California Fruit and Nut Basket is more prone to triggering Democratic enthusiasm than Jeff Denham.
The four-member congressman from the rural population runs in a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 with three points. Denham's opponent, a "Medicare-for-all" Democrat named Josh Harder, is trying to get established incumbent Trump on issues such as health care and immigration.
This democratic message could find an audience here in this sunny corner of the San Joaquin Valley. A New York Times-Siena College poll at the end of October showed that 47 percent of residents support Harder, while 45 percent support Denham. The sample size of the survey of 501 likely voters has an error rate of nearly 5 points, suggesting that every candidate can win on Tuesday.
No resource is more vital in the 10th district of California than water. In this respect, Harder is hard to distinguish from his opponent.
Both Denham and Harder reject a government plan to flush more water through the Central Valley's rivers to preserve endangered river fish. Both also reject another proposal to build two massive tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to supply water to the south, including Los Angeles.
"Water is a nonpartisan issue," Harder told the Washington Post in an interview. He said that Republicans and Democrats have been "working together here for a century to make sure the valley has enough water."
In a September debate, Denham admitted so much: "There is no more critical question here than the future of our water here. And Josh is right, this is not a partisan theme for us here in the Valley. (Denham's campaign refused to provide the congressman for an interview.)
Before the elections, however, it was the California Republican delegation to Congress that focused on the power of the federal government to try to bring more water to the Central Valley.
In October, 18 days before Election Day, Trump promised to eliminate "all unnecessary burdens" on water supplies in California and other Western states. The President signed a memorandum urging federal authorities to legislate to accelerate the removal of canals and dams that provide water to the Central Valley.
During the signing ceremony, Trump was joined by five California House Republicans, including Denham.
Deputy Home Secretary David Bernhardt welcomed this move during a teleconference with reporters explaining the policy as "the most important step a president has taken on Western water issues."
However, some water policy experts see Trump as a policy rather than a policy, with federal measures taken after the elections.
"It was fully designed to compete with the competitors of Central Valley," said Peter Gleick, hydrologist and founder of the Pacific Institute.
Yet many farmers here in Stanislaus and San Joaquin County, where irrigation canals and highways cross kilim and stone fruit for miles, are content with the help they can get.
"After all, he has been given a mandate to provide water infrastructure in the western United States after all these years," said David Phippen, a third-generation almond grower in Manteca who supports Denham. "We waited a long time."
The recent water fight concerns the California State Water Resource Control Board, which is to decide whether more water should flow through the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
Now that the Sierra Nevada is filled with snow, plenty of fresh water is available. The plan is to provide cool and fast-flowing downstream water to prevent Chinook salmon collapse and three-inch delta odor. However, farmers fear that less water will be left for cultivation. The five-member jury will vote on the plan one day after election day.
In the midst of the controversy, Trump keeps away from shaky races like Denham's, where his presence may hurt rather than help.
Instead, Denham helped three Trump Cabinet officials – Interior Minister Ryan Zinke, Agriculture Minister Sonny Perdue, and acting Chief Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler – in recent months to visit the Central Valley to visit reservoirs and talk to breeders.
During a visit to the Don Pedro Reservoir in July, Zinke praised the "great leadership" of the congressman on water issues.
The visits prompted both the Department of the Interior and the EPA to ask the letters from the California Water Board later, asking if permission to allow more runoff is legal or even helping to reduce fish stocks.
Almond farmers, such as Phippen, who reject what they call the "water-gripper" of the state, are sensitive to the perception that they are planting a thirsty crop. At the height of the drought, the California almond industry lamented a statistic often heard: it takes about a gallon of water to make a single almond.
Phippen noticed that the almost four-storeyed almond pods stored in a barn under the open sky are not wasted.
Phippen gestured that a hull was loaded with hulls and said, "Tomorrow morning, there will be milk." The outer linings were on the way to be fed to dairy cows.
Bob and Margo Cushing, almond farmers about 30 kilometers east, emphasized what they and others perceive as an even greater threat: Brown's proposal to build two massive tunnels under the delta to bring water south.
The Cushings, however, are harder. She and other supporters of the Democratic candidate are worried about Denam's vote for a bill that includes a ban on lawsuits against the controversial tunnels.
"That did not help us at all," said Bob Cushing as he leaned against his John Deere Gator in his 11,000-acre Oakdale orchard, which was equipped with low-volume sprinklers between trees to save water.
The Denham campaign counters by classifying Harder, a former venture capitalist, as Bay Area Harder after failing to attend a Sacramento rally against the state's "water grip."
The Republican camp also tried to use Harder's Advocacy of the League of Nature Conservation voters, who spend about $ 100,000 on Harder's voting efforts, against him after the group mocked Trump's water memo as a "political stunt."
But the coup for Denham was Trump's signature in October about a water infrastructure law that helped the congressman write. The bill approved the financing of new water storage projects in the western United States. Again, Denham stood by Trump's side while he signed.
Harder mocked the bill as "great," saying "that there is no government funding available for any water project."
"It's an account that you can go home a week before the election and tell people you've done something," Harder said.
But the agricultural facility here in the districts of Stanislaus and San Joaquin, which is thrilled when the federal government finally takes its concerns seriously, stays with Denham. The two farm offices of the counties both support the incumbent.
Farmers are not the only ones who depend on water. Much of the Hispanic community here, which according to the 2010 census accounts for 40 percent of the district's population, works in agriculture.
"If we can get them to vote, this is our biggest challenge," said Guadalupe Villarreal, a retired walnut farmer and Harder supporter. "Many of these people do not usually vote."
At a crossroads off the street from Phippens Almond Farm, half a dozen Democratic campaign campaigners stood in the late-day sunshine to wave for Harder marks, some adorned with water towers.
"Water is not an issue in many places," said Kathi Fotinos, a retired nurse who was on duty that day. "But we went from one drought to the next."
Suddenly a car driver indicated that Harder's message broke through on the water.
From the window of a passing pickup, a woman shouted, "Save our water! Vote for Josh Harder! "
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.