As a full Tuolumne River flowed behind them, a diverse set of government leaders and water stakeholders gathered alongside Congressman Josh Harder Wednesday afternoon in Modesto to unite under one important cause: protecting water in the Central Valley.
Harder, flanked by local and state officials of both the Democrat and Republican parties, agriculture groups and farmers, irrigation district representatives and other water advocates, announced a monumental new bill to address the ongoing water crisis called the Securing Access for the Central Valley and Enhancing (SAVE) Water Resources Act.
The legislation, which has bipartisan support, will create cutting-edge programs to grow and sustain the region’s water supply by improving storage capacity, supporting key new technological innovations for drought resistance and groundwater management and establishing responsible levels of federal funding to invest in water future.
“We’re stuck in a 20th century mindset on water use that fools us into believing the answer to our water problems is to take it from someone else – pitting us against each other. Southern California against Northern California, farmer against fisherman and Democrat against Republican. But after the worst drought in our history, we’re all finally starting to understand that that system doesn’t work,” Harder said. “We have the most variable rainfall in the country here in California – if we had passed this law 20 years ago like we should have, we wouldn’t be seeing a wet year like this one as a complete missed opportunity to invest in our future water needs and store valuable water for times in need.”
According to Harder, he got straight to work on the water bill in the first few days after he was sworn in, just over 100 days ago. Since then he’s held roundtable and individual conversations with many of the same people who stood beside him to announce the bill on Wednesday, listening to their ideas and seeing what would work best for District 10 in legislation of this scope.
Joining Harder at the bill’s announcement were Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, Turlock Irrigation Director Michael Frantz, Del Puerto Water District General Manager Anthea Hansen, Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Board President Darrell Cordova, Delta-Mendota GSA Executive Director Federico Bajas, Stanislaus County Sierra Club Political Chair Kent Mitchell and local water distribution and treatment operator Sam Hedge — leaders with the occasional opposing viewpoint, but brought together under a bill that will benefit the entire region.
“This is a complicated issue, and as you heard today there are a lot of stakeholders, a lot of people from different sides of our community,” Harder said. “I think sometimes people love to fight, and that’s what cable news is all about and that’s what Washington loves to do...we met because we wanted to set a different tone, and I think the fact that we have Republicans and Democrats here, the fact that we have the Sierra Club alongside the Farm Bureau — I mean, how often do you see that? — really suggests a process of the last 110-plus days that has been collaborative and listened to every single voice.”
The SAVE Water Resources Act touches on a broad range of water policy areas aimed at increasing water storage opportunities, spurring innovation in water sustainability, and making responsible federal investments in our aging water infrastructure.
The bill works to improve water storage by requiring the Bureau of Reclamation to expedite feasibility studies for four specific storage projects in the Central Valley, including Sites Reservoir, Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir, Los Vaqueros and San Luis Reservoirs and provides $100 million in storage funding. The bill also helps farmers prepare for SGMA by leveraging federal resources to identify prime locations for groundwater storage and recharge in California and across the Western United States.
In order to incentivize private sector development of new, cutting-edge water developments, the bill will create an “X-Prize” program, authorizing $2 million per year administered by the Department of the Interior. In addition, the bill invests in water reuse and recycling by increasing funding for WaterSMART programs from $50 million to $500 million and extending the program’s authorization.
The SAVE Water Resources Act also invests millions in the Valley’s aging water infrastructure by establishing a water infrastructure and drought solutions fund to provide $300 million for water surface and groundwater storage, water reclamation and reuse, and WaterSMART program projects. An innovative financing program included in the bill would provide low-interest federal loans to fund local water infrastructure projects, and it will also reauthorize the Rural Water Supply Act, which requires the Bureau of Reclamation to work with rural communities to improve access to safe and clean sources of drinking water.
The bill is supported by elected officials of both parties. It is cosponsored by Congressmen John Garamendi, Ami Bera, TJ Cox and Jim Costa, and also has the backing of California State Senators Anna Caballero, Cathleen Gagliani and Andreas Borgeas, California Assemblymen Heath Flora and Adam Gray, Supervisor Chiesa and Mayor Bublak.
“Agriculture drives the economy of Stanislaus County, and we must ensure that our farmers have access to the water they need to sustain their livelihoods – especially during times of drought,” Chiesa said. “This should not be a partisan issue, and I appreciate Congressman Harder’s work to secure broad consensus that will allow us to grow and sustain our water supply while also protecting our environment.”
Local water districts, including TID and Modesto Irrigation District, also approve of the SAVE Water Resources Act.
“TID understands that in order to provide safe, reliable and affordable water and power to our customers, new cooperative approaches must be prioritized,” TID General Manager Casey Hashimoto said. “The SAVE Water Resources Act is a promising example of solution-based legislation that seeks to provide greater resources for California water.”
Harder said that in addition to local bipartisan support, his colleagues on Capitol Hill understand the bill’s importance as well.
“Water doesn’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat. You’ve got to make sure you have it, both for our economy and individual water user needs,” Harder said. “That’s why we have to work together if we’re going to get a solution here, and I think capitol hill recognizes that.”
For a full, section-by-section explanation of the SAVE Water Resources Act, visit www.harder.house.gov.