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Opinion: TJ Cox Is Fighting to Bring Water to the Taps and the Fields

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Kerman is an hour drive from David Valadao’s home but it might as well have been on another planet. For six years Valadao supposedly represented Congressional District 21, and for all six he was mostly missing in action.

Mr. Valadao graced us with his presence once during his tenure, and during that single meeting, I learned the now-former representative’s favorite word: “No.”

Espi Sandoval

Opinion

Would he fight for more funding for our schools? No.

Would he address the contaminated water many families are paying $150 per month for? No.

It was insulting, especially since small communities on the Westside are full of potential. For instance, in Kerman and surrounding communities we’re taking education and entrepreneurship to the next level by promoting dual enrollment for students to receive associate’s degrees along with their high school diplomas through a local nonprofit and we’re helping students learn to code and start their own small businesses.

TJ Cox has been working on development projects in the rural Central Valley for years, and I knew from the first time I met him that he saw the potential in our communities. It’s a shame our former member of Congress didn’t share that perspective.

TJ and I share concern about the petty, partisan stalemate over water that had pushed Central Valley ag nearly off a cliff and imperiled the health of thousands of families in the rural heartland of the Central Valley. He knew there was a better, more collaborative way, and it started by putting people first.

Over $390 Million in Funding for Valley Water Projects

Two years later, TJ has made good on his promise. That made me even more furious to see our absentee former congressman try to smear and minimize TJ’s big wins on water, both drinking water and for agriculture.

The fact is, this year, thanks to the efforts of Representative TJ Cox and our local water agencies, community advocates, and congressional leadership, over $390 million has been set aside for Valley water projects in the House’s 2021 government funding bills. That’s not pocket change, that’s the largest federal investment for water conveyance in the San Joaquin Valley in over 50 years.

We need big upgrades to our storage capacity too, and TJ has secured over $237 million for new storage projects including the Del Puerto Canyon, Los Vaqueros, Pacheco and Sites Reservoir projects. These projects, which are already in progress, will provide up to 2.2 million acre-feet of additional water storage capacity.

TJ also made sure the new $1.5 trillion infrastructure package the House passed, the Moving Forward Act, addresses our water issues. The bill contains TJ’s Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Assistance Act, which authorizes $100 million to help small communities like San Joaquin, which is dealing with a dire water situation. The bill also includes key provisions to fix our water infrastructure, including his Move Water Now Act, authorizing $200 million for the Friant-Kern canal and $200 million for San Joaquin River restoration. That’s on top of another $750 million for surface and groundwater storage projects.

And now he’s introduced a bill to invest $800 million in storage and conveyance, doubling the amount available previously.

Listening to Local Leaders

We’re now seeing President Obama trumpeted on TV as a bipartisan hero for Valley water. He is the last president to have had a positive impact on Valley water and agriculture. The fact is, there’s been no significant water legislation passed that benefits the Valley since Obama was in office. In 2017, then-Rep. David Valadao introduced his Gaining Responsibility on Water Act, but that bill didn’t even get through the Republican Senate and was ignored by the Trump White House.

The Central Valley water provisions TJ secured in this year’s House-passed annual funding legislation represent an unprecedented opportunity to upgrade Central Valley Project storage and conveyance infrastructure in a way not seen since these facilities were constructed in the 1940s and 50s. Now, the only thing standing in the way of water actually flowing to the Valley are the Senate and Trump administration.

Ensuring there’s clean water coming out of the taps and plentiful flow to grow the crops that feed the world isn’t an easy task, and many have tried and failed to make it happen, including our former Congressman David Valadao. It’s going to take someone with a record of working with anyone and everyone to get this done — someone like TJ Cox who actually listens to local leaders like me.

Espi Sandoval is a Kerman City Council member.