Representative Josh Harder, D-Turlock, was joined by Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to discuss the drought and water conservation this week. Harder and Haaland both pledged to find solutions to help the Central Valley navigate through the drought.
“The department recognizes the hardships that the drought has presented to all of our communities, including the communities in the Central Valley,” Haaland said. “And Interior is committed to working with you, Representative Harder, and of course, every single one of your colleagues to make it through this water year and to find a sustainable path forward.”
Harder stressed the importance of developing short-term and long-term strategies to help mitigate current and future water crisis.
“That means we need to start building. In the last 50 years, the population in California has doubled, but we have not built a single new water storage project. We need more. We need to make sure that we're bringing new investments to our water portfolio,” said Harder.
Harder is pushing hard to get a bipartisan infrastructure bill passed which could provide $8.3 billion for western water storage. The Interior Department’s proposed 2022 budget includes $15 million toward building Del Puerto Reservoir in Patterson, which will be the first big water infrastructure project in the Central Valley in over 50 years.
“We've got more than $8 billion for western water storage in this infrastructure project, with over a billion dollars specifically for projects like Del Puerto, in addition to the money that we've already talked about,” said Harder. “This would be more money that we've spent federally on water since the Hoover Dam. It's actually five times more than we've spent in history. The level of investment that our community needs is not just for this drought, but for anything coming down the pike.”
Del Puerto Reservoir could be built by 2028, which would add 82,000 acre-feet of storage for the area. This could prove vitally necessary during dry years where the region receives little to no rain.
Haaland said she is working closely with state and federal agencies to identify projects that are needed to combat California’s dry climate.
“I know how much climate change has impacted our communities and continues to do so for extended fire seasons to intense drought and water shortages, and I know how important the Central Valley is to these discussions, drought doesn't just impact one community, it affects all of us,” she said.
Harder pointed out that Stanislaus County already has a major water recycling system. Farmers in the Del Puerto Water District use the effluent from sewage plants serving Modesto, Ceres and Turlock.
“Obviously, the best thing that we can do is get more use out of the water that we already have,” Harder said.
The infrastructure bill will be voted on by the House no later than Sept. 27.