Congressman Josh Harder, who represents the Stockton area and has been opposed to the Delta tunnels project for five years, is speaking out against the governor's move.
Harder and other advocacy groups say the project could negatively impact the ecosystem of the Delta in the San Joaquin Valley.
Proponents and the governor’s office say the project will make the state’s water supply more reliable, and allow better options for water movement and storage during and after storms.
“I care deeply about what the environmental community believes and thinks, but at the same time I care deeply about the progress we’re promoting here today,” Newsom said at a press conference announcing the legislation last week.
CapRadio’s Mike Hagerty spoke with Harder to learn more about his effort to stop the Delta tunnel project.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Hagerty: So to be clear, you and the governor are both Democrats and there's agreement between you that speeding up the state's transportation and water infrastructure projects is a good idea apart from the Delta Tunnel, right?
Harder: Absolutely. There's no question that we need to move faster on infrastructure projects. It's been 50 years since we built a new water reservoir anywhere in California.
We passed a water bond in 2014. A lot of that money is still sitting in bank accounts and shovels still haven't been put in the dirt all across California because there's so much red tape embedded in the process.
If we'd been able to build those projects before a flood year like this one, then we would have been able to keep countless people safe across the Central Valley and across the state. So we need to absolutely make sure that we're building good projects.
What we don't need is preferential treatment for a boondoggle like the Delta Tunnel that's going to do nothing to keep residents of San Joaquin County and the Central Valley safe and instead is just going to ship our water down south.
You've hosted several town halls on the issue in your district with those folks. What are they saying?
Well, people have been very loud and clear. We've done town halls across our district trying to make sure that we're hearing directly from folks who are going to be affected, who are on the frontlines of this fight. And I think, quite frankly, it's been pretty clearly unanimous. And it's not just this iteration. We've been fighting against this project for decades.
This is a zombie project. Every time we kill it, it finds a way to change its iteration. Sacramento brings it up again and comes back with another version. But none of [these Legislators] are going to do anything to keep our community safe, and instead are going to really imperil the livelihoods of folks across our area.
It's been very rigorously tested that if this water slipped down south, we're going to see more toxic algae blooms across the Delta. We're going to see more salt in the land because the water is going to be siphoned out and down, down south, which means that our farmers are going to be dealing with land that's been poisoned because of an infrastructure project like this one.
Do you see yourself able to change the governor's mind?
Well, we've won before. Like I said, this is just the latest iteration of a fight that we've been fighting for a long time. We've been able to stop this project again and again.
Frankly, I don't understand why Sacramento is so invested in it that they keep bringing it back. But I think we have a good chance if we can build a coalition. The folks affected, obviously we're at the heart of it in San Joaquin County, Lodi, Stockton, Tracy. But folks are going to be affected all over Northern California.
Is it awkward to put yourself at odds with the governor of your own party on a major project?
My job is to make sure that I'm representing my community. This is not an issue that is divided by party lines. So often in California we want to pit environmentalists against farmers. The old line in California is whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting; these water wars have really been a part of our state's history since the very beginning.
One of our farmers told me he doesn't have Democratic cows or Republican cows. He just has cows.