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Harris visits the Southern California Stormwater Runoff Project

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On Friday, Vice President Kamala Harris joined state and local leaders at a Los Angeles County site recently upgraded to increase groundwater retention, where they touted ongoing efforts to improve resilience to drought in California and neighboring states.

Harris’ visit followed a series of storms that rocked the state for weeks, causing death, flooding and widespread damage – but also providing record rainfall needed in the water-starved West.

Harris said the climatic whiplash – from years of severe drought to driving rains – was indicative of the climate crisis, necessitating better preparation for such weather extremes. And with much of that recent stormwater already flowing into the Pacific, the situation has renewed calls to change how the state collects and stores stormwater.

“It forces us to be present and to be in front of (…) variations in extreme weather that produce a lot of water and extreme weather that produces drought,” Harris said Friday, making his last appearance in his state of origin. She returned to California often during her tenure as vice president, choosing various cities as sites to make political announcements at the White House, rally on state issues, and support local initiatives.

She talked about the banks of a newly renovated facility in Los Angeles County’s Sun Valley, known as Tujunga Spreading Grounds, which aims to increase the amount of rainwater and runoff captured in huge bowls. in the ground, which are then used to recharge groundwater. There are more than two dozen leaching grounds or ponds in Los Angeles County.

“I am happy to be here to highlight the work that is happening at this facility and in California as an example of what can and should happen in our country and around the world,” Harris said.

She pointed to the $12 billion in federal funds from the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Cut Inflation Act allocated to projects in the West aimed at improving drought resilience.

“We can build resilience and adaptation,” she said, “and do the kind of work that’s being done here, which is investing in smart ways to store water so that we have that water. in times of crisis”.

Harris has repeatedly advocated for water-focused projects, particularly in and around her home state.

The vice president was joined at the spraying grounds by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.); Representative Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima); Tanya Trujillo, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Ministry for Water and Science; California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot; and other local and state environmental officials.

Crowfoot thanked Harris and President Biden for their continued support during the winter storms and for the recovery.

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“Their leadership, their commitment allowed us to respond more quickly to these emergencies, to pre-position personnel and assets,” Crowfoot said. “On a personal note, the vice president’s experience as a Californian brings so much to these challenges that we face, whether it’s floods, wildfires or drought.”

Harris’ trip comes the day after Biden visited California’s central coast, assessing some of the worst storm damage and pledging continued federal support for the state’s recovery efforts. Damage could reach $1 billion. Across the state, storms that began Dec. 26 and lasted through mid-January caused major flooding, massive power outages and more than 500 mudslides, and claimed at least 22 lives. .

The president’s visit follows weeks of support for California from federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after it issued an emergency declaration for the state. Biden reiterated federal aid pledges issued through a separate major disaster declaration in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz counties.

Although Southern California withstood the storms better than the northern and central regions of the state, it experienced significant rainfall, which caused flooding, mudslides and at least one massive sinkhole, and caused multiple rescues.

But the storms have also improved drought conditions across the state – with many areas seeing record rainfall – although experts warn California is far from ending its years-long drought.

The majority of the state remains in moderate drought, and 40% is still considered severe drought, according to the US Drought Monitor.

The state has spent billions in recent years on water supply projects, such as the Tujunga Spreading Grounds, which have focused on increasing groundwater recharge, capturing stormwater, and tank storage. Governor Gavin Newsom said this week he had proposed $202 million for flood protection and $125 million for drought-related actions for next year’s budget.

“California isn’t waiting to act — we’re acting aggressively to modernize how we capture and store water to future-proof our state against more extreme cycles of wetness and drought,” Newsom said in a statement. communicated. “We are accelerating projects across the state to maximize stormwater capture and storage above and below ground during times like these, reshaping our water systems for the 21st century and beyond. of the.”

Crowfoot said those types of projects would be a priority this spring, including finding new ways to capture the unusually high snowmelt that accompanies storms.

“I’m optimistic in large part because of the leadership of the Biden-Harris administration,” Crowfoot said. “We have more funding to build the infrastructure we need to adapt to this weather whiplash than we have had in a generation.”

Editors Hayley Smith and Taryn Luna contributed to this report.