Not only does the Turlock-native Congressman refrain from partisan politics for the most part, although those who don’t understand why a Democrat would vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker as opposed to Kevin McCarthy will argue that point, but Harder knows a drought when he sees one.
The second term 10th District congressman in late July noted that California is in dire straits.
Harder pointed out the reservoirs we rely on are at a lower point now than they were at the depth of the last drought that ended in 2019.
At the start of the year water bureaucrats betting on long-term weather forecast models didn’t pare back releases. Then a warm stretch hit in the mountains to reduce the snowpack runoff. By early May it was clear things weren’t looking good.
Yet the best Sacramento can muster is Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for people to voluntarily cutback water use 15 percent. Newsom, who is facing a recall Sept. 14, hasn’t even been able to bring himself to declare drought emergencies in the voter-rich Los Angeles Basin, Inland Empire and San Diego area.
The governor’s argument is the areas have ample local storage and are in no need of emergency measures such as even voluntarily cutting back 15 percent of their water use.
Such a politically convenient stance ignores two realities.
The first is in terms of regional hydrology Los Angeles-San Diego is in the same severe drought category and worse as are the water basins they take water from including the Sacramento Valley, Owens Valley, and Colorado River watershed.
The second is the fact the Metropolitan Water District that wheels imported water throughout Southern California is far from borderline inept that the state Department of Water Resources can appear to be at times with a bureaucracy that often moves at the speed of a glacier.
The MWD and agencies they work with over the years have wisely pumped up their own storage reservoirs and underground water banks. Not only have their squirreled away water taken from remote reservoirs in wet years but they continue to take robust deliveries from the State Water Project and Colorado River.
That means while communities are suffering now in the water basins they are exporting water from, the LA Area is taking as much as they can to soften the blow of the drought continuing into 2022 and beyond.
Faced with a less precarious situation, former Gov. Jerry Brown declared a statewide drought emergency and imposed mandatory 15 percent across the board water cutbacks. Everybody shared the pain because at the end of the day the way California has been engineered for water and development, we are all into this together.
Newsom does not present himself as a climate denier. That leaves the only plausible reason why he is gambling with California’s economy and public health when it comes to water. It’s for his political self-preservation.
Given where San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties are on the biggest dog-eat-dog food chain in California which is water, Harder’s prioritizing water solutions bodes well for the region and the rest of the state.
Harder is correct in that securing additional off-stream storage in Colusa County and Contra Costa County that on the surface has no direct benefit to his constituents is a good move not just for California but for the people he represents in Manteca, Ripon, Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Patterson and such.
That’s because creating additional storage to carryover excess precipitation in wet years or to capture rainfall that is destined to increase as climate change downsizes the snowpack that massive mountain area reservoirs rely that helps meet urban, farm, fish, and environmental needs elsewhere will reduce pressure of efforts to commandeer local water.
Harder isn’t blowing smoke when he says “we are in this together” as Californians. That isn’t a position he takes just because he may harbor altruistic leanings. It’s one rooted in the reality of where we on the edge of arguably the world’s largest switching yard for water — the Delta — and the multitude of other water-related challenges we face.
Harder can’t protect or uplift the district’s future unless he can do so by garnering support from elected leaders elsewhere in California as well as in Congress.
To his credit, Harder did not ignore the efforts of his predecessor Jeff Denham when it came to trying to move sensible water projects forward. Harder from his first day in office had worked toward moving water initiatives launched by Denham and building upon them.
Harder has double downed on working with congressional colleagues who may break out in hives at the mere mention of the word “dam”.
He has focused on projects that don’t bring down the wrath of every anti-water development force in the universe. Harder has targeted off-stream storage efforts as they are not rife with environmental concerns. And in the snail pace of how major public works projects move today, they have a greater chance of actually getting completed before we cycle through two or more droughts.
With all due respect to Congressman Jerry McNerney who represented Manteca before redistricting in 2010, Harder is arguably the most astute and effective Democrat representing the area in Congress since John McFall when it comes to advocating for this region when water is the issue.
Unlike McNerney, Harder gets the need to make water virtually his top priority given the role the Bureau of Reclamation plays on the Stanislaus River watershed and the multitude of federal agencies with a seat at the table when it comes to the Delta and the potential for actions that could diminish the three life giving arteries in the Northern San Joaquin Valley — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers.