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Working for a Water Sustainable California

Mar 10, 2020
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This past Friday, I was invited to participate in a field hearing hosted by the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The hearing, which was held in Los Angeles County, focused on the issues facing America’s water infrastructure alongside some potential solutions. It was a very informative event, with all of the participating witnesses expressing a clear commitment to reducing the Southern California’s dependence on imported water.

As the lone representative for the Delta sitting on the dais, I made sure that our community’s perspective was heard. I explained that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay-Delta, or the Bay-Delta as we refer to it, serves 20 million Californians and is the economic lifeblood of our region. I also expressed that one of our biggest concerns is the saltwater intrusion that we have been seeing as a result of excessive water exports, especially in drought years. While we must ensure adequate freshwater flows in all years, it is especially important to do so in wet years in order to prevent permanent damage to the delicate Bay-Delta ecosystem. To that end, witnesses and local representatives expressed their mutual understanding of this issue, as they too face saltwater intrusion damage to their water resources (specifically their aquifers).

Throughout the hearing, we heard from a diverse group of witnesses, including Robb Whitaker of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California. Mr. Whitaker testified that the Los Angeles County region currently has half a million acre-feet of underground water storage but noted that they could double this amount with the proper investments. Similarly, in San Joaquin County, we have about one million acre-feet of groundwater storage capacity but need to develop the infrastructure to take full advantage of it.

Additionally, the Los Angeles County and Orange County region has a system that sends fresh rainwater and high-flow snowmelt to the ocean as quickly as possible in order to prevent flooding. Now that they want to depend less on imported water, the counties are investigating ways to slow down some of these flows so that more water can be used to recharge their aquifers. The soils and topography of the region are well suited to that purpose, but sustained investment is needed to pull it off. They also appear to be committed to recycle most of their water – providing another source of water for the region that so far has not been sufficiently tapped.

All in all, the information that I heard was very encouraging, and I support appropriating the money for regional investments in reducing water imports. However, I was discouraged to hear so much support for the single tunnel plan, and I voiced my opposition to such a proposal based on a number of factors, including cost and the fact that it wouldn’t produce any new water. I’ve long contended that any plan for a tunnel or tunnels is a short-sighted fix for a long-term problem. That’s why I proposed the WEST Act last Congress, which outlined a comprehensive water infrastructure plan for the United States and garnered support from Members of Congress across the country. I will continue to push for investments in our water infrastructure and to engage with our Southern California counterparts because we need the kind of thinking and action that was discussed at this hearing.

I want to thank Congresswoman Grace Napolitano, who chaired the hearing, for inviting me to attend and participate in this important dialogue. I also want to thank our panel of witnesses: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, Chairwoman Gloria Gray of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Water District, Shane Silsby of Orange County Public Works, Tony Zampiello of the San Gabriel Valley Water Association, Robb Whitaker of the Water Replenishment District of Southern California, and Thomas Fayram from the Santa Barbara County Public Works Department were witnesses.