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Infrastructure bill will help Valley store water, fix roads

The $1 trillion federal infrastructure package is being touted as a victory for the country’s roads, water storage, internet capabilities and public works systems, but how will it benefit Turlock?

The legislation was approved by the U.S. Senate on Aug. 10 following a 69-30 vote, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting the plan.

“This bipartisan bill has the investments we need to fix our roads and bridges, finally build new water storage projects, and get our firefighters the tools and technology to keep all of us safe,” Rep. Josh Harder (D-Turlock) said. “It’s supported by Republicans and Democrats alike so I’m working to get it signed into law as fast as I can.”

According to Harder’s office, the three main components of the bill which will most benefit both Turlock and the Central Valley as a whole are: roads and bridges, water infrastructure and wildfire fighting and prevention. While there aren’t individual names of projects listed as part of the bill, Harder’s communications director Andrew Mamo said the Congressman’s office is confident that money included in those three pots will reach the local community. 

Harder played a key role in securing $8.3 billion for water projects in the west, $1.15 billion of which is dedicated purely to storage. The billions of dollars in funding includes specific pots of money for water storage, conveyance, desalinization, recycling, watershed health improvements, and repairs for dams.

One local project which will most likely be funded thanks to the infrastructure package is the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir, which Harder urged the Secretary of the Interior to include in her list of recommended Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act surface storage projects. 

The Secretary recommended $15 million for the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir and $50 million for the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion, which represents one of the largest investments in storage in the Valley in a generation. As early as March, Harder was advocating for water storage funding to be included in the infrastructure bill and even penned a bipartisan letter with Republican Rep. David Valadao encouraging House and Senate leaders to do so. 

The bill also includes $115 billion to help fix roads and bridges. In California, there are 1,536 bridges and over 14,220 miles of highway in poor condition and in Turlock, it was estimated this year that the city’s Pavement Index rating was a 55 out of 100. Since 2011, commute times have increased by 14.6% in California and on average, each driver pays $799 per year in costs due to driving on roads in need of repair. 

“The Central Valley also has some of the worst roads and bridges in the state, including the 7tth St Bridge in Modesto which is so unsafe, school buses aren’t allowed to drive over it,” Mamo said.

After part of the SCU Lightning Complex fires burned in Del Puerto Canyon a year ago and fires throughout the state affect the local air quality this summer, Harder was happy to announce that wildfire fighting efforts will receive $3.4 billion in support through the infrastructure package and another $5.75 billion will go toward natural resource-related infrastructure, including fire management and restoration. 

The historic sum is almost three times the size of CalFire’s annual budget and includes $500 million each for tree thinning, prescribed fires and grants to help communities prepare for wildfires. Another $200 million would go toward post-fire restoration work, and over $400 million would rehabilitate burned areas, reduce hazardous fuels and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration improve its weather forecasts and data collection around fires.

The package would also provide funding to convert 1,000 seasonal wildland firefighters to full time wildland firefighters, funding for technology to better detect and forecast both droughts and wildfires, money to establish a pilot program for “slip-on tanker units” which can convert conventional government vehicles into fire engines and risk reduction on 10 million acres of land. 

Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) applauded the infrastructure bill.

“I’m proud that Democrats have come together to advance President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda by committing to a stand-alone vote on the bipartisan infrastructure framework and delivering a budget that helps working people across this country,” Costa said. “This infrastructure bill secures robust funding for California and the Valley, including for water, roads and broadband expansion - significant investments we haven’t seen in a generation. The budget plan will provide help to families, immigrants, workers, and our environment with equally strong funding. Both bills will put this country on a path to reduce poverty, improve healthcare and create jobs. We can do big things when we work together.”

While senators have said the bill will be paid for, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would increase budget deficits by $256 billion over a decade. The report did not include the potential revenue boost from economic growth. The infrastructure bill will be voted on by the House no later than Sept. 27.