Vice President Kamala Harris promotes climate action at Lake Mead

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, Nevada – The white “tub ring” the Colorado River left on the beige rocks behind the Hoover Dam shows the growing urgency to act on climate change and drought, said Vice-President Kamala Harris on Monday.

In 20 years of a heat-supercharged drought, water levels have dropped more than 140 feet, creating the white group Harris spoke of as she touted the Biden administration’s spending priorities.

The low levels forced Arizona and Nevada to cut back on their water use after the federal government declared the first-ever shortage on the Colorado River earlier this year. The seven states that use the river are working on plans to deal with the continuing drought.

Harris said a trillion-dollar bipartisan infrastructure deal and an even larger partisan budget reconciliation bill would help the Southwest retain water behind the dam and seek other new sources or recycled.

“It’s about looking to the future, recognizing where we are and where we are going,” she told a lectern at the National Park Service’s Sunset View Scenic Overlook at the western end of the reservoir. . “It is literally about life.”

Millions of Americans in the Colorado River Basin depend directly on it for water, she said, and others across the country eat the food it produces.

The infrastructure accord that was passed by the Senate and awaits action by the House includes $ 4.6 billion for aging infrastructure and rural water supply projects, including $ 400 million for water saving programs.

An example of one such small project that received $ 75,000 in federal funds last year is the installation of 49 smart meters by the Yuma County Water Users Association to increase the efficiency of pipelines. . Another invested $ 300,000 in Goodyear’s installation of five injection wells to recharge the West Salt River aquifer with available reclaimed water. The Bureau of Reclamation program is pouring $ 73 million out west for such programs this year and could apply much more with infrastructure funding.

The legislation also provides $ 250 million for the study or construction of desalination projects. A White House official said no specific project was targeted, but could be applied to the study of a seawater desalination plant including Arizona, California and Nevada discuss with Mexico.

According to state officials, this plant, perhaps in a decade or more, would use the states’ investment to create fresh water that Mexico could use and in return give the states access to some of Colorado River water guaranteed by treaty.

A high water mark is visible on the shore of Lake Mead at the Hoover Dam.

Southern Nevada Water Authority officials told the vice president on Monday that $ 450 million in the infrastructure bill and an additional $ 100 million in the reconciliation bill would help with a recycling proposal. Southern California water which, like the Mexican desalter, would use upstream dollars in exchange for river water.

The Las Vegas water supplier, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and the Central Arizona Project have agreed to work with the Metropolitan Water District of California on a plan that could reuse the treated wastewater that is currently flowing into The pacific. Metropolitan would take that water and credit its partners for some of its Colorado River actions.

Lake Mead:First-ever water shortage on Colorado River will result in cuts for Arizona farmers

“We are definitely in a situation where we need to look at all of the available options,” Dave Johnson, deputy director of operations for SNWA, told The Arizona Republic.

When asked about the potential usefulness of the legislation in Arizona, the state’s Department of Water Resources emailed points of Director Tom Buschatzke’s recent testimony ahead of a US Senate hearing on the drought in the west.

In addition to recounting the state’s conservation efforts and the consideration of desalination and recycling in the state, Buschatzke testified that forest restoration is an important tool in protecting the state’s water.

The Four Forest Restoration Initiative was created with this in mind, to thin out ponderosa pines in Mogollon Rim County to reduce both fire risk and water use, but after more a decade, she’s still trying to reach half of her 50,000 acres of thinning per year.

Federal Infrastructure Bill calls for the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps reminiscent of the New Deal Civilian Conservation Corps, which puts people to work by building campgrounds, planting trees and performing other outdoor chores during the Great Depression.

Vice President Kamala Harris stands at a Lake Mead vantage point with Assistant Superintendent Justin Pattison of the National Park Service on October 18, 2021, in Boulder City, Nevada.

In that case, according to a White House official, the new body could work on forest restoration, but also on other climate adaptations such as planting and maintaining trees to reduce the worsening of areas of the forest. urban heat. It is not known how many people such a program could employ.

Drought:Declining Colorado River Flow Could Halt Power Generation at Glen Canyon

Harris met briefly with federal water managers from the Bureau of Reclamation. Dan Bunk of the agency, chief of operations in Boulder Canyon at the Hoover Dam, told him that regional rainfall drops and increased heat caused the country’s largest reservoir to drop 95 percent full in 2000. about a third full now. The result is a shortage that will take water from the river to some Arizona users, including farmers in Pinal County, over the coming year.

“This is the real picture of climate change,” said Vice President Randy Lavasseur, director of the Lake Mead National Park Service. “Climate change is here, it is moving and we must act. “

Harris noted that the administration’s “Build Back Better” program, as proposed in the budget reconciliation bill, would fund renewable energy and electric vehicle programs in the hope of reducing gas emissions. greenhouse effect.

“It’s part of what contributes to these drought conditions,” she said.

“Right now we have a time when we have the capacity to actually benefit future generations,” she said.

Three members of the Nevada congressional delegation greeted Harris and spoke at the event. Representative Steven Horsford, D-Nevada, noted the bipartisan stance of the infrastructure bill and said, “Climate change is not a partisan issue.”

The broader reconciliation spending proposal, however, only garnered support from Democrats in Congress, and Nevada Republican officials did not speak at the vice president’s event.

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and Contact him at [email protected]

Environmental coverage on and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic’s environmental reporting team on and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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