Vice President Kamala Harris visited the San Fernando Valley’s Tujunga Spreading Grounds on Friday, Jan. 20, to highlight the need for drought- and flood-resilient infrastructure in the wake of extreme flooding across Southern California that killed at least 22 statewide.
The Tujunga Spreading Grounds is a 150-acre network of basins that captures stormwater and uses it to recharge the region’s groundwater. This giant puddle is capable of collecting enough water to supply 64,000 households on an annual basis and serves the dual benefit of preventing flooding during extreme rain events.
“This plant and this facility is doing the smartest and most contemporary type of work necessary to store water,” said Harris, adding that the climate crisis requires a new and diverse range of approaches to water conservation in California.
“Sometimes there will be days of intense water, rain, storms, flooding and, at the same time, we are a state that has experienced, for generations, drought,” she said.
In recent years California’s weather has been positively biblical, with a years-long drought punctuated by deadly wildfire seasons and followed most recently by lethal flooding. As climate change makes these extreme weather vacillations more common, local governments are considering how to capture water from intense rain events and make sure it’s available during dry times.
“We have recently pivoted from the driest three-year period since 1896 to the wettest three weeks on record,” said Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources secretary, during the Vice President’s visit. “This weather whiplash is challenging our infrastructure as never before.”
The Tujunga Spreading Grounds is one of 27 spreading grounds in L.A. County helping meet this challenge. The Biden Administration is seeking to invest in innovative water conservation projects like these across the nation, Harris said, and pointed to the more than $12 billion for water infrastructure in the West, secured through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act.
Harris’ visit to her home state of California followed that of President Biden’s, who traveled to Central California earlier this week to take stock of the damage created by floods and to meet with impacted residents.
U.S. Senator Alex Padilla was present at both visits, which he said demonstrated Harris’ and Biden’s “commitment to assist California communities and families to not just recover from the recent storms, but to truly build better going forward.”
Congressman Tony Cardenas was also present at the Vice President’s visit and praised the recent Tujunga Spreading Grounds Expansion Project. The project was completed in June 2022 and allowed the grounds to double its annual groundwater recharge capacity by consolidating and deepening its network of basins.
“The spreading grounds have needed improvements for many decades. If you just look at that measurement, that is 18 feet (deep water),” Cardenas said, pointing to the water levels in a nearby basin. “That means that these spreading grounds are going to make enough water to sustain millions of people for generations to come,” he said.
The grounds received a huge top up in the last few weeks when rainfall levels burst multiple regional records. On Jan. 14 alone, the recorded daily rainfall in Downtown LA, at LAX and in Long Beach broke records set in 1978.
The expanded capacity of the Tujunga Spreading Grounds is especially important during storm events like that when other stormwater capture systems become overloaded. It is estimated that tens of billions of gallons of water have drained straight into the Pacific Ocean during recent rain events — and picked up many pollutants and contaminants along the way.
That not only is bad for oceanic ecosystems, but is also a waste of precious water resources that could be used to alleviate drought conditions. The most recent drought began in 2000 and the past three years have been the driest in recorded history.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California declared a drought emergency on Dec. 14, 2022. This is still in effect despite recent record-breaking storms.
The recent rainfall has gone a long way to increase reservoir levels, but there is still a great deal of room for more water. For example, the state’s two largest reservoirs, Shasta and Oroville, were respectively at 54% and 60% of total capacity on Jan. 19, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources.
L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath also attended the Harris visit and spoke to the importance of working collaboratively at all levels of government to invest in more water conservation projects.
“I’m so grateful and so proud to see the Vice President visit us right here in the Valley to make sure we are focusing our attention on successful projects like this one,” said Horvath. “This is how we pave a brighter future and make sure that we are making a future that is more sustainable for generations to come.”
Source: Orange County Register