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State Sen. Melissa Hurtado On Central California's Heat Wave And Water Shortages


For the West Coast, it's been a brutal week - deadly triple-digit heat, escalating wildfire dangers and water in life-threatening short supply. Widespread drought means some places no longer have easy access to the running water most of us take for granted. In central California, the town of Teviston in the San Joaquin Valley is one of those places. Teviston is home to about 700 people, and it has just one functioning well. That well broke down a few weeks ago, leaving people desperate to find water to drink, to wash, to cook, to cool off.

FRANK GALAVIZ: There was no water pressure for the evaporator coolers or the coolers to keep people cool 'cause it was extremely hot. Yeah, it hurts. You know, it hurts to see people suffering.

FADEL: Frank Galaviz (ph) is a community service district director who has spent two decades in Teviston.

GALAVIZ: Turn the water off for a couple of weeks, and you will know how it feels. It's frustrating. It's depressing. You know, when you're having to flush the toilet with a bucket of water, it's not right.

FADEL: State Senator Melissa Hurtado is a Democrat who represents California's 14th District, which includes the town of Teviston. Senator Hurtado, welcome.

MELISSA HURTADO: Hello. Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So what are your biggest concerns for the rural communities in your district?

HURTADO: Having no water. No water equals bad health. And people there have the inability to shower, to cook. I worry for their safety. I worry for their health. And this is something that is devastating them.

FADEL: Now, you introduced a bill in the California Senate, SB 559, which would dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a broken water canal in your district. What exactly will that do for communities like Teviston?

HURTADO: SB 559, the Friant-Kern Canal bill that I'm working on, would help fix the canal so that the basin and the communities that rely on the water here would be able to have more access to it.

FADEL: Now, an earlier version of the bill we just spoke about was vetoed by your fellow Democrat, Governor Gavin Newsom, last year. His office said the state needed to take a more holistic approach to the crisis. What's different this time?

HURTADO: I added infrastructure projects that he felt also needed to be included in it, like the Delta-Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. But we're also partnering with U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jim Costa, where they're looking to do the federal efforts to bring some additional dollars to fix these conveyance projects as well.

FADEL: What will it take to keep what's happening in Teviston and probably other places from happening again?

HURTADO: We're going to really have to think about the laws that are in place that make it more difficult to build the necessary - or repair the necessary infrastructure to get water to the communities that need it. It takes about 15 years to go through the CEQA process or the federal NEPA process to be able to get this well installed, and that needs to change. We can't wait 15 years. We can't wait 10 years. And we most definitely cannot even wait a year. You know, I have a community that's without water for three weeks now. And as much as we want to protect our environment, my most urgent need is to protect people.

FADEL: Democratic State Senator Melissa Hurtado of California's 14th District, thank you for joining us.

HURTADO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.