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Kamala Harris stresses need for diversified water policy on Southern California visit

The weather extremes California experienced in recent weeks illustrate the diverse challenges the climate crisis is bringing, Harris said.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Vice President Kamala Harris called for a more diversified approach to water management on a visit to Southern California Friday as extreme weather patterns necessitate changes to handle both unprecedented drought and deluges.

Harris visited the Tujunga Spreading Grounds in Sun Valley, one of more than a dozen spreading basins in LA County that capture storm water for future use.

"We must have the ability to diversify our approach," Harris said. "We must understand that the issues present in the climate crisis are varied."

While California has suffered from years of drought, a series of enormous rain storms battered the state in recent weeks, causing widespread flooding, evacuations and billions of dollar in damages. The heavy rains, however, have only moderately improved the long-term outlook and many of the state's reservoirs are still well below their historic averages.

The use of spreading basins to capture storm water during the normally rainy winter season and letting it sink into the ground to be used during dry spells is one of the ways in which the billions of dollars in available federal infrastructure funds can be employed to prepare for the continuing impact of the climate crisis.

The White House has secured more than $12 billion for western water infrastructure in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. This funding will help build diversified water projects like the Tujunga Spreading Grounds in communities across the West, increasing drought resilience and protecting water resources.

The number and force of atmospheric river storms that hit California since late December prompted President Joe Biden to grant Governor Gavin Newsom’s request for a federal state of emergency, after the governor placed the entire state under a declared emergency during the prior week. 

"We have pivoted from the driest three-year period since 1896 to the wettest three weeks on record," Wade Crowfoot, the secretary of California's Natural Resources Agency who accompanied Harris on the visit, said. "This weather whiplash is challenging us and challenging our infrastructure as never before."

Capturing storm water as well as snow melt and putting it into reservoirs and, importantly, letting it percolate into the ground to be reused is key to facing the extended dry periods, Crowfoot said. This not only will make places like LA more self-sufficient, according to Crowfoot, but it will also reduce the pressure on rivers such as the Colorado and the Northern California river systems.

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