Michael Kovac/WireImage/Getty Images(BAKERSFIELD, Calif.) — President Donald Trump is expected to highlight his administration’s efforts to divert more water to farmers in California during his visit to Bakersfield on Wednesday, fulfilling a campaign promise and raising concerns among environmental advocates about the impact on at-risk ecosystems in the state.
The move highlights one of his campaign promises to farmers that he would lift environmental regulations he calls “overly burdensome” and, specifically in California, make water more available for agriculture.
Trump is expected to formally approve an Interior Department decision that would allow more water in California’s Central Valley region to be diverted to farmers.
The federally-managed project has been a point of contention between farmers and conservationists who say diverting too much water could damage critical ecosystems, including for a tiny endangered fish called the delta smelt that serves as a crucial food source for other species of fish like salmon. Farmers say they need the water to preserve agriculture production during droughts.
But critics say the documents the president will approve have found different results than opinions under other administrations that raised concerns about the impact of diverting more water from fish populations.
“Making that permanent is potentially a death warrant for the larger Bay delta ecosystem,” John Buse, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity told ABC News, calling it a “total abdication” of the government’s conservation responsibilities.
“The president on previous campaign trips has made fun of the delta smelt but it’s really a larger ecosystem wide collapse that we’re talking about,” he said.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups have filed legal challenges to the decision to allow the project to move forward.
The move could also bring back questions about the appearance of a conflict of interest with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on this issue, whose former client will get the bulk of the water contracts under this new plan. Interior says ethics officers cleared Bernhardt of any wrongdoing.
The president has previously weighed in on the contentious issue of water management in California during wildfire season, criticizing the state’s Democratic leaders for how they manage water in the state that he inaccurately said could have been used to put out fires.
The debate about water is one of many areas where Trump has publicly attacked California lawmakers, criticizing them on how they manage wildfires, environmental issues and homelessness.
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