Standing at the depleted San Luis Reservoir on Wednesday, State Sen. Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) called for additional funds to help California residents and businesses withstand the drought.
Hurtado’s rallying cry came on the anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to the reservoir 59 years ago.
“I am frustrated that while we are seeing the warning signs of climate change, our agricultural and vulnerable communities are not being invested in equitably by our state and federal governments,” said Hurtado. “More funding is desperately needed by both state and federal governments.”
Local water officials and agriculture advocates joined with Hurtado in advocating for the passage of her legislation that would deliver $785 million to repair essential water delivery systems providing drinking water to communities and irrigation water for farms in the Central Valley.
She called $100 million in state funding in this year’s budget a “down payment” on what is needed.
Massive Funding Needed to Combat California’s Water Issues
Hurtado, who represents the 14th Senate District, hopes that Senate Bill 559 — The State Water Resiliency Act of 2021 will go a long way toward solving some of California’s most pressing water issues.
The funds would go to fixing the Friant-Kern Canal, the Delta-Mendota Canal, and major portions of the California Aqueduct, all of which have degraded and are losing water as a result of subsidence — the actual shrinking of land.
However, Hurtado made it clear that while the $100 million is to be celebrated, it is nowhere near enough to overcome climate change, population growth, and increasing water shortages.
Senate Bill 559 Gets Bipartisan Support in the Valley
Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed Hurtado’s bill last year, saying that all of California’s water canal systems are aging and damaged by land subsidence — not just one single project.
“The first time that I introduced Senate Bill 559, it didn’t encompass all the water infrastructure projects that needed repairing, including the San Louis Canal, the Delta-Mendota, and the California Aqueduct and that’s why I came back, and I introduced it, including those projects,” said Hurtado.
SB 559 has bipartisan Valley support. The co-authors in the Senate are Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno), Ana Caballero (D-Salinas), and Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield). Assembly Members Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno), Frank Bigelow (R-O’Neals,) Vince Fong, (R-Bakersfield), Devon Mathis (R-Visalia), Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield) also support the bill.
“Today, the notion of both major parties working together is so rare, however, we have it in SB 559.” said Jason Phillips, CEO of the Friant Water Authority.
The president of the Kern County Water Agency, Royce Fast, supported Phillip’s comment by pointing out that political parties rarely work together. Fast urged everyone at the resevoir to support Hurtado’s bill “to keep the valley green.”
San Luis Reservoir Provides Water for Many Valley Residents
As the fifth-largest reservoir in California, San Luis stores water from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta and serves both the State Water Project and the Federal Central Valley Project.
The reservoir supplies water to approximately 63,500 acres of land in the Santa Clara Valley west of the Coast Range with most of the water used for irrigation. The California Valley Project receives water released to the Delta-Mendota Canal, providing water to 380,000 acres of farmland in the San Joaquin Valley.
According to Federico Bajas, who represents the San Luis and Delta Mendota Water Authority, the reservoir has 330,893 acre-feet of water — just 16% of its storage capacity.
Farmers and Communities Across the State Stand to Benefit
Roger Isom, president and CEO of the California Cotton Growers and Growers Association, the water shortage extends beyond crops to drinking water for communities.
“My family’s from Porterville and East Porterville,” said Isom. “There’s families out there that have tanks out in the front yard that get filled up every so often, I mean I can’t imagine living where I’ve got to go out there to a tank or I can’t take a shower.”
According to Isom, state legislators from urban cities who come to visit the Valley are astonished that cotton is grown in California and are clueless about what is grown and what the Central Valley supplies to the rest of the state.
“They hear a kind of one-sided thing about the environment and, you know, saving the delta smelt … but they don’t understand how this water system was designed,” said Isom. “You’ve got to go back to when they built San Luis Reservoir to understand how the state and federal water projects work, what their intent was, and how they were meant to deliver water all over, not just for farming, but for the cities as well.”
Isom and Hurtado have invited urban Democrats to the Valley so they can understand the urgency of the situation.
“Senate Bill 559 will actually benefit 31 million Californians because water needs to flow from where it’s available to where it’s not available,” said Hurtado. “What happens here in California, where we produce two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts and one-third of its vegetables impacts the entire world — not just our state and not just our country. The actions we take here to combat the impacts of climate change will affect the nation as well.”