The Fresno Bee: California Senator Alex Padilla talks water projects during visit to Fresno, Valley

By Thaddeus Miller

In his first official visit to the central San Joaquin Valley, Sen. Alex Padilla pledged Friday to back funding for infrastructure across California as a way to improve the economy.

In Merced County with other area leaders, Padilla said he’s supporting legislation that will aid rural residents with upgrades like those needed at the aging Dos Palos Water Treatment Plant, which has failed at least three times in the past decade.

Padilla said as the state comes out of the pandemic, eyes should shift toward equitable progress.

“How are we investing? How are we ensuring our economy is not just rebounding, but rebounding strong and rebounding for everybody?” he said. “A big part of that is investing in our infrastructure. Investing in infrastructure in a way that builds a stronger, more resilient and a more equitable future for all families.”

The conversation comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a drought emergency in 50 of the state’s 58 counties. Newsom asked residents to voluntarily reduce water use by 15%.

Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, said Friday residents in the rural parts of the state can be left behind by legislators in urban centers like Sacramento.

“California’s aging infrastructure is in major disrepair. We have under-invested for really a generation,” Gray said. “In the 43 years I’ve been here in California, we’ve increased our water infrastructure by 1%. We’ve more than doubled our population in that time.”

Padilla, appointed to the seat formerly held by Vice President Kamala Harris, said the Senate passed in May the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021, which provides $35 billion over five years in federal financing and funding to address the nation’s water infrastructure needs. The improvements need to go beyond water, and include investments to broadband, electrical power, education and other areas, Padilla said.

The senator also on Friday made stops in Fresno and visited the farm of Joe Del Bosque, which straddles Merced and Fresno counties.

The farmer said the drought this year means he had to fallow a 100-acre asparagus field worth “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and he’s looking at how much he’ll have to cut back on melon fields.

“If you look at California, it’s been 50 years since we’ve built new water storage. That’s too long,” he said. “It’s very daunting.”

Padilla said Friday part of his tour of the Valley was to learn the needs of residents and farmers, saying increasing water storage was one of the issues he looked to better understand.

“Part of what we’ve been able to see firsthand is the state of the existing infrastructure and investments that need to be made to recapture capacity through efficiency of the existing infrastructure,” he said.


Built in 1969, the Dos Palos plant has not seen any significant upgrades and in recent years has limped by with just enough funding to keep it going, local officials said on Friday.

During the most recent incident in June 2020, city officials said residents had lost access to potable water for the three days when filtration systems became clogged with algae and shut down. During that time, Dos Palos residents were under a state-mandated boil water notice.

Merced County Supervisor Scott Silveira, whose district covers Dos Palos, said improving the plant was a nonpartisan issue, noting the coalition was of mixed party affiliations.

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said he teamed with state Sen. Anna M. Caballero, D-Salinas, and Gray to get $11 million to pay for a new plant in the city of 5,300.

He said he hopes to see the plant break ground in a few months. The project would take about 18 months to finish.

“We’re the richest country in the world. To have cities like Dos Palos and others, in which their water system shuts down or they can’t meet state or federal drinking water requirements, is simply unconscionable. Period,” Costa said.

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