The Dixie wildfire, still raging in Northern California, is rapidly burning through communities, recently becoming the largest wildfire in state history after less than a month. Year after year, these record-breaking extreme weather events seem to be the new reality for Californians, and Americans across the nation.
Here in California’s 25th District, we are all too familiar with the emerging threat of the climate crisis – having recently experienced wildfires in nearly every part of the district, the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history, severe drought, and water pollution from multiple sources that continues to require remediation by local agencies.
A significant, and under-appreciated, contributor to the difficulty in fighting wildfires throughout the country are the extreme droughts and unaddressed water pollution fueled by an antiquated, ineffective system of water management. Additionally, severe water shortages threaten one of California’s leading economic drivers, our agriculture industry.
California is currently experiencing the driest summer on record since 1896, and new climate research shows that in the last two decades California’s rain season has decreased by 10 days annually, creating the dire situation we now face.
Unsurprisingly, water shortages are absolutely devastating for agriculture and ecosystems under immediate threat.
So, while we continue to experience worsening droughts, it is absolutely imperative that we do everything we can to protect our stressed water system and ensure the water we have is safe and usable. And for too long, federal agencies have fallen short in their stewardship, forcing local residents to stand up and fight for accountability and reform.
Luckily, some members of Congress are paying attention. The PFAS Action Act, which passed through the House despite the opposition of the 25th District’s Rep. Mike Garcia and other Republicans siding with corporate polluters, would improve national drinking water standards, empower the EPA, and protect Americans from harmful chemicals known as PFAS. PFAS have been linked to cancer, liver and kidney damage, and ulcerative colitis.
The 25th District’s water agencies have been greatly impacted by PFAS leaching. That’s why, in the state Assembly, I successfully advocated for California to revise our PFAS standards, which went into effect last year. Based on these increased safety standards, water providers will need to notify consumers when levels of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) or perflourooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) reach higher than 5.1 parts per trillion and 6.5 parts per trillion, respectively, or take those water delivery systems reaching those levels off line.
This leaves already-struggling local water agencies with a costly, pressing need for resources to test and detect these contaminants and treat water supplies to diminish the risk to consumers. That’s why the federal PFAS Action Act is so important. We must hold polluters accountable.
Unfortunately, Mike Garcia voted against the federal PFAS Action Act to improve national drinking water standards and protect Americans, military bases, and our environment from these harmful forever chemicals. Despite the negative health and economic effects PFAS contamination has already had on 25th District families, my opponent chose to side with corporate polluters.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill provides another opportunity for sound investment in California’s water security. The total package, yet to pass the House, allocates over $8 billion for water infrastructure in the Western states.
These investments include watershed and ecosystem management, dam and canal repair, and new groundwater storage and conveyance facilities. The bill, supported by a wide coalition of communities, ranchers, farmers, businesses and water providers, would also support water programs for heavily impacted rural communities, and community-based water conservation programs. These are necessary and critical investments to support our economy and our communities.
The need to reimagine America’s infrastructure to be cleaner and more sustainable has never been more apparent.
Just last week, federal officials for the first time declared a shortage in Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, which will result in water supply reductions throughout the West.
If we want our children and grandchildren to have a livable planet, our elected officials must act now. That’s why it’s also so unfortunate that Congressman Garcia continues to oppose vital environmental policy to keep our water, land and air safe and invest in our critical infrastructure.
Our children deserve clean drinking water and to inherit a livable planet. From renewable energy infrastructure to public transportation, and water infrastructure, America cannot afford to wait.
We need common-sense, forward-thinking leadership now.
Christy Smith is a 40-year resident of the Santa Clarita Valley, former state Assembly member and former Newhall School District board president who currently serves on the California Delta Stewardship Council. She is a candidate to represent the 25th Congressional District.