Vice President Kamala Harris addresses climate change and the drought-reduction of water at Lake Mead after visiting the Sunset Overlook at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, on Monday, Oct. 18, 2021, in Lake Mead, Nev. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)
WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris stood before the record-low water levels of Lake Mead on Monday and made the case for the Biden administration's climate change agenda by warning that "this is where we're headed."
"Look at where the water has receded over just the last 20 years," she said, referring to the "bathtub ring" of minerals that marks where the reservoir's water line previously stood. "That space is larger than the height of the Statue of Liberty."
The vice president pitched the administration's infrastructure and social safety net agenda as critical to tackling the effects of climate change — which scientists say intensify extreme weather events such as heatwaves and droughts.
Democrats have struggled to win support for that plan from some members of their party, who want to winnow down its $3.5 trillion price tag.
Harris made the case for the package by connecting human-caused climate change to the scene she stood near, saying emissions are "part of what is contributing to these drought conditions."
"The bipartisan infrastructure deal — combined with the 'Build Back Better' agenda is about what we need to do to invest in things like water recycling and reuse, what we can do in terms of water desalination, what we can do in terms of implementation of drought contingency plans," Harris said.
Water levels at Lake Mead — created in the 1930s by the damming of the Colorado River — have fallen to record lows. Federal officials in August declared the first water shortage in the Colorado River, which means Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will receive less water than normal next year amid a gripping drought.
In September, Reclamation released projections showing an even worse outlook for the river.
While California is spared from next year's cuts, the nation's most populous state has experienced one of its driest years on-record while battling scores of catastrophic wildfires.
In arguing for the $1 trillion public works infrastructure deal, Harris referenced the "good union jobs" that the spending package would create, naming pipefitters, electricians and plumbers as examples. That plan passed the Senate months ago and is awaiting House approval.
It contains roughly $8 billion for western water projects, including desalination technology to make sea water usable, modernizing rural water infrastructure and building greater capacity to recycle wastewater.
Harris also spoke about the Biden administration's proposed civilian Climate Corps, which it has said would create hundreds of thousands of jobs building trails, restoring streams and helping stop devastating wildfires.
The vice president's visit to Nevada coincided with the administration launching a plan long awaited by environmentalists and public health groups to regulate toxic industrial compounds. Sometimes called "forever chemicals" the substances known as PFAS are used in cookware, carpets, firefighting foams and other products and have been found in public drinking water systems, private wells and even food.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it would move to set drinking water limits for PFAS and require manufacturers with PFAS in their products to report how toxic they are.
Harris on Monday met with federal and regional water officials such as Tanya Trujillo, assistant interior secretary for water and science, and U.S. Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford of Nevada.
Passing Biden's signature social services and climate change plans would serve future generations, Harris said, "in a way that will not only be about life, but about ... beautiful places like Lake Mead."