September 24 2021 03:30 pm

Interior Secretary Haaland joins Rep. Harder to push for California drought relief, resources


(KTXL) — A new assessment from the U.S. Drought Monitor is due out Thursday, but it’s unlikely to show any improvement for the region.

The entire state is facing a drought, with 50% of California listed in the “exceptional” drought category.

That pledge came Wednesday afternoon during U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland’s first visit to Northern California — albeit virtually.

As the most important person in the federal government for water policy, Haaland took Congressman Josh Harder, D-Turlock, up on his invitation to privately hear directly from farmers about what this water crisis is doing to them.

“The department recognizes the hardships that 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.”

Haaland delivered that message to the region just as the city of San Francisco and several Central Valley irrigation districts sued the state over water use restrictions.

Rep. Harder pushed hard for the federal infrastructure bill Republicans are bucking in the House. It could deliver $8.3 billion for western water storage, which he sees as key to mitigating state drought issues in the long term.

A separate $65 million pot of money is allocated in the yet-to-be-approved federal budget for the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir and expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir.

Harder said Washington, D.C., needs to hear the voices of the valley to make sure those dollars become reality.

“So we need to make sure we’re getting these agreements signed directly between the irrigation districts responsible for these projects and the Department of the Interior,” Harder said. “The budget still has to be signed into law by the president. My hope is we can do that by as soon as the end of this year, and as soon as that happens this money needs to be deposited into those bank accounts and we need to get started with shovels in the dirt.”

In the last 50 years, California has doubled its population but has not has seen significant investment in water storage. What’s on the table in Congress would represent the single largest investment in water storage since the Hoover Dam.

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