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Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
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California senators press Congress for $1 billion to prep for future drought

The money would be spent over five years to help municipalities build new water recycling plants and groundwater recharge projects in preparation for climate change-driven dry spells.

(CN) — With rural wells running dry and reservoir levels dwindling amid the Western drought, California senators are pressing Congress for an infusion of cash to renovate the state’s collapsing drinking water system.

But instead of new dams or desalination plants, Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla want the state to take a more innovative approach in prepping for future megadroughts experts predict will only worsen due to global warming.  

In new legislation introduced Friday, the lawmakers are seeking $1 billion to boost stormwater capture, groundwater recharge and water recycling efforts in the Golden State and throughout the U.S.

“Climate change and the resulting extreme droughts mean we have to start using water much more efficiently,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Investing in water recycling is an important part of that effort.”  

Just a few years after a record-breaking dry spell, unmistakable signs of drought have returned to California and much of the Western U.S.

Unseasonable wildfires, record-low reservoir levels, fallowed fields and catastrophic salmon die-offs have the nation’s most populous state on edge with months still to go before the return of the rainy season.

Coined the Water Reuse and Resiliency Act, the legislation would add $200 million a year over the next five years to the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget to promote new projects at the local level.  

California’s junior senator says renovating and diversifying water infrastructure should be a “national priority.”

“California is bearing the brunt of the impacts of the climate crisis, but we are also on the forefront of innovative ways to combat this crisis,” Padilla added.

Sponsored by a coalition of water districts and sanitation agencies, the legislation aims to jumpstart water projects like a pair already underway in California’s capital city.    

Considered one of the largest public works projects in Sacramento County history, the estimated $2 billion Echo Water Project will provide a massive upgrade to the county’s outdated wastewater treatment plant which serves more than 1.4 million people. The project will vastly improve the quality of water currently being discharged into the state’s largest river and turn sewer water usable for nearby farmers.

The groundbreaking project is being funded by a state loan along with rate increases and is expected to be completed by 2023.

The county has also broke ground on an accompanying project that will use treated water to promote aquifer recharge and increase river flows. Under the project, officials hope farmers will reduce groundwater pumping in exchange for the readily available “harvest or recycled water.” Backers say the program could irrigate up to 16,000 acres of farmland annually and reduce the strain on the county’s aquifers.

“As historic drought grips California and the West, and record breaking rainfall inundates other parts of the country, it is critically important the nation modernize and adapt our water systems for the 21st century,” said California State Water Resources Control Board Chair E. Joaquin Esquivel. “Senator Padilla's legislation will leverage state investments by expanding funding for projects like water recycling, stormwater capture and reuse, and groundwater recharge.”

According to the latest update by the U.S. Drought Monitor, every county in California is experiencing some form of drought. In addition, the state is preparing for the first time to take a hydroelectric power plant at its second-largest reservoir offline in the coming weeks due to sinking water levels.

Farmers have already been largely cut off from federal and state water project deliveries, but so far Governor Gavin Newsom has shied from mandatory water reductions for residents. Newsom’s predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, issued the state’s first ever mandatory urban restrictions in 2015.

In addition to Friday’s proposal, the senators earlier this week urged Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to include $200 million for alternative water projects in the ongoing infrastructure talks.  

“We are facing a climate crisis, and the decisions we make now will have an environmental, economic, and social impact for generations to come,” said the letter signed by the California contingent along with Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine and Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen.

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Categories / Environment, Government

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