Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday joined state and local leaders at a Los Angeles County site working to increase groundwater, where they touted ongoing efforts to improve drought resiliency across California and neighboring states.
Harris’ visit came on the heels of a series of storms that battered the state for weeks, causing fatalities, flooding and extensive damage — but also provided record-setting precipitation, needed in the water-starved West.
California’s climate whiplash — from years of severe drought to pummeling rain — has renewed conversations about how to better prepare for weather extremes, especially utilizing all available water supplies. Much of the stormwater from the heavy rain has already flowed into the Pacific, sparking calls to change how the state collects and accesses rainwater.
In Los Angeles County’s Sun Valley on Friday, Harris praised the project at the Tujunga Spreading Grounds, which aims to increase the amount of rainwater and runoff that can be captured by massive earthen bowls and to recharge groundwater.
“I’m happy to be here to highlight the work that is happening in this facility and in California as an example of what can and should be happening throughout our country and around the world,” Harris said.
She pointed to the $12 billion in federal funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act that have been allocated for projects across the West aimed at improving drought resiliency.
Harris has repeatedly advocated for water-focused projects, especially in and around her home state.
The vice president was joined at the spreading grounds by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.); Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-Pacoima); Tanya Trujillo, the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for water and science; California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot; and other local and state environmental leaders.
Harris’ trip comes the day after President Biden visited California’s Central Coast, assessing some of the worst damage from the storms and promising continued federal support for the state’s recovery efforts. Damages could reach $1 billion. Across the state, the storms that began Dec. 26 and lasted into mid-January caused major flooding, mass power outages and more than 500 mudslides and led to at least 22 deaths.
The president’s visit followed weeks of support for California from federal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, after he issued an emergency declaration for the state. Biden reiterated promises of federal aid issued through a separate major disaster declaration in the counties of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Merced, Sacramento, San Joaquin and Santa Cruz.
Although Southern California fared better in the storms than the northern and central regions of the state, it experienced significant rainfall, which brought flooding, mudslides and at least one massive sinkhole, and prompted multiple rescues.
But the storms also improved drought conditions across the state — with many areas seeing record rainfall — though 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 to be in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The state has spent billions in the last few years on water supply projects, such as Tujunga Spreading Grounds, which have focused on increasing groundwater recharge, stormwater capture and reservoir storage. Gov. Gavin Newsom this week said he had proposed $202 million for flood protection and $125 million for drought-related actions to be included in next year’s budget.
“California isn’t waiting to act — we’re moving aggressively to modernize how we capture and store water to future-proof our state against more extreme cycles of wet and dry,” Newsom said in a statement. “We’re expediting 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.”
Harris has often returned to her home state during her tenure as vice president, choosing various California cities as sites to make White House policy announcements, rally for state issues and support local initiatives.
Times staff writers Hayley Smith and Taryn Luna contributed to this report.