Harder unveils bill funding Valley water projects, including reservoir near Patterson

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, thinks there is a better way to find water solutions for California’s Central Valley and to stop squandering water in wet years that’s needed in dry years.

His bipartisan water legislation unveiled Wednesday promises federal support for storage and innovation projects to address shortages that too often plague Valley agriculture and communities. Representatives from water districts, agriculture, local and state government and other groups joined the freshman congressman on the Tuolumne River bank in Modesto to announce the bill.

“We know the next drought is just around the corner,” Harder said. Because water infrastructure fell behind the state’s exploding population and agricultural industry in the past 100 years, much of the heavy runoff from wet winters can’t be saved for beneficial purposes, he said.

Congressman Josh Harder talks with Modesto City Council member Jenny Kenoyer before he announces a new water bill at Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Andy Alfaro

A roundtable of Valley interests contributed ideas for the S.A.V.E Water Resources Act. The bill would invest federal dollars in additional water storage projects such as Sites Reservoir near Colusa in the Sacramento Valley, expansion of San Luis Reservoir and a dam creating a reservoir in Del Puerto Canyon west of Patterson. According to information provided, the bill would fund feasibility studies for the storage projects.

Part of the $100 million for increased storage would fund projects to recharge groundwater aquifers and store water underground. The water bill also includes $100 million for recycling and reclamation efforts and would create a monetary prize for developing sustainable water technology.

Federal funding of water reuse and recycling efforts would jump from $50 million to $500 million.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa said water is vitally important and the legislation, if it passes, would have benefits for the county. Also speaking in support of the bill was Amy Bublak, mayor of Turlock, which has tried to find an affordable alternative to wells for city water customers.

Del Puerto Water District Manager Anthea Hansen speaks about the new proposed reservoir in Del Puerto Canyon as part of Congressman Josh Harder’s new water bill at Tuolumne River Regional Park in Modesto, Calif., Wednesday, April 24, 2019. Andy Alfaro

Anthea Hansen, general manager of Del Puerto Water District, fleshed out some details of a proposal for a reservoir in Del Puerto Canyon in the hills west of Patterson. The $500 million project backed by her district and Central California Irrigation District would store up to 85,000 acre-feet of water in an 800-acre lake.

The reservoir tied into the Delta-Mendota Canal and possibly the California Aqueduct could hold water secured by local irrigation districts and also store highly treated wastewater from the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program. The envisioned benefits include better delta water management and water supply reliability, a refuge water supply, renewable power generation, recreational benefits and environmental enhancements along Del Puerto Creek.

Hansen said the proposal is in the preliminary study phase with an aim to start construction in 2021. Harder’s bill has potential for providing funding for a storage project that could stir reaction from West Side residents who like the picturesque canyon.

Patterson Councilman Dennis McCord said Wednesday he was not aware that anyone had discussed the reservoir proposal with the city. “We need the water but that is our recreation area up there,” he said. “I would need to know a lot more about what they want to do and how that is going to affect Patterson.”

Frederico Barajas, director of the San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority, said full storage in reservoirs meant that additional storm flows this year could not be pumped from the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta for use in dry years. Many farmers who rely on the federal Central Valley Project were cut to zero water allocations in the last drought.

Harder is pushing for 21st Century solutions such as using the federal Bureau of Reclamation, a major dam-developer in the last century, to identify groundwater recharge sites. Evaporation eliminates a percentage of storage in reservoirs each year.

His bill would reauthorize the Rural Water Supply Act to work with rural communities in western states to assess drinking water supply needs and identify options. The federal program expired in 2016.

Federal assistance could help small communities like Monterey Park Tract in Stanislaus County supply clean water to residents.