FRENCH CAMP — U.S. Rep. Josh Harder didn’t have to convince an overflowing crowd in French Camp this week that the Delta Tunnel is a bad idea.
Instead, the town hall served as a sort of call to arms for those who do not want to support what many called a “water grab” by Southern California in the longtime-going war of words and policies in the fight for ownership of the state’s water resources.
A crowd of more than 150 Wednesday night gathered in the community room at Health Plan of San Joaquin on Manthey Road to listen to harder speak about one of the state’s most studied, talked about and debated issues — water. The hour-long meeting saw discussions on flooding, water storage and, of course, the divisive Delta Tunnel, a $16 billion project from that would divert water from the Delta down to our SoCal neighbors that is supported by both Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Department of Water Resources.
Harder is a harsh critic of the plan, which he calls a “boondoggle.” He said that the citizens of San Joaquin County and the San Joaquin Valley at large must mobilize if they want to be heard. Attendees were also given paperwork and instructions for protesting the project.
“There’s a lot of people that live in Los Angeles, about 20 million of them. There’s a lot less who live here, and so it’s no surprise why we are overlooked on this issue time and time again,” said Harder, who was joined at the meeting by Barbara Barrigan Parrilla of Restore The Delta and Bruce Blodgett, executive director of the Delta Protection Commission.
The Delta tunnel plan was first proposed in the 1980s and has gone through many changes over the years. The current version supported by the governor is a smaller than previous blueprints and features a single tunnel rather than the originally-proposed double tunnel idea.
Ector Olivares of the Catholic Charities’ Environmental Justice division said any version of the tunnel project is bad for San Joaquin Valley, accusing Southern California of abusing water resources.
“They will drink us dry. They will turn us into a desert without putting a dent in their water use,” Olivares said.
Although Harder has been in congress since 2019, he has only represented Stockton and most of San Joaquin County for a few weeks. With the retirement of longtime District 9 Congressman Jerry McNerney, Harder switched from the the 10th District to the 9th following California’s redistricting last year, winning the election in November.
Ria Jones of Lodi said she was glad to hear Harder’s interest in water issues because his views matter.
“Did I get all my questions answered? I did not, but I learned a lot, not only from him but from the audience,” Jones said. “The main thing I take away is that people made it very clear to him that we are concerned and not going to lay down and take whatever the Army Corps of Engineers wants us to do or what Southern California voters think they are entitled to.”
As of Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers, as well as state and other federal agencies, do not plan to host in-person hearings on the 700-page Environmental Impact Statement concerning the Delta Tunnel project. Written public comment is being accepted until Feb. 14.
Harder has been critical of that decision and sent a letter to the corps with signatures from other fellow representatives, including John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena).
“You are not the people they want to hear from,” Harder said. “So you have to be heard.”