Harris makes the case for Biden’s climate priorities in visit to rapidly draining Lake Mead
Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

Harris makes the case for Biden’s climate priorities in visit to rapidly draining Lake Mead

Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday made a forceful plea for Congress to pass both parts of President Joe Biden’s two-pronged economic agenda because of the climate components as she spoke in front of Nevada’s rapidly draining Lake Mead.

“This is a fundamental issue,” Harris said, standing at a podium in front of the desert lake. “Every living thing depends — and requires — on water.”

Before Harris arrived, a White House official said she would make the case for Congress to fund “the largest investment in climate resilience in US history” by passing President Joe Biden’s sweeping economic agenda, according to a White House official.

Harris’ remarks came as the President’s climate proposals inside the social safety next expansion package face a fraught future, in part because of West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s stance on the climate initiatives in the proposal. CNN previously reported that Manchin has pushed back strongly on the Clean Electricity Performance Program, the cornerstone climate policy in the package, and does not support a clean energy standard to cut emissions by 50% over the next decade.

The vice president took aim at the contributions emissions have played in drought levels.

“The Build Back Better agenda will help us tackle the climate crisis with investments in clean energy and electric vehicles, and so we can reduce emissions,” she said. “And why do we need to reduce emissions? Because that is part of what is contributing to these drought conditions.”

Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, is experiencing a shocking climate change-fueled drought and is rapidly draining as CNN has previously reported. The Colorado River reservoir, which is just east of Las Vegas on the Nevada-Arizona border, is poised to become the focal point of one of the country’s most significant climate crises: water shortages in the West.

Before speaking, she took a walking tour of Lake Mead, stopping at multiple locations alongside it as she was told about the lake’s rapid decline and her guides pressed her about the need for action. Harris was also shown before and after images of the area. Harris was joined US Reps. Dina Titus, Susie Lee and Steven Horsford, all Democrats from Nevada.

Harris said the problems at Lake Mead have broader implications for the nation, something that the administration’s legislative agenda is meant to address with proposals like water recycling, water desalination and the implementation of drought contingency plans, among others aspects of the legislation.

“This is about thinking ahead, recognizing where we are and where we’re headed if we don’t address these issues with a sense of urgency understanding,” Harris said. “This is literally about life.”

She later added, “It is critical that we, as a nation, understand that we have within our hands — within our possession — the ability to actually change the course of where we’re headed.”

Turning to the lake behind her, the Californian urged attendees to look at where the water has receded in the last 20 years, saying the height is taller than New York’s Statue of Liberty.

“Let’s get these bills passed,” she added.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which is upstream from Mead on the Colorado River, have drained at an alarming rate this year due to climate change-fueled drought. The two reservoirs fed by the Colorado River watershed provide a critical supply of drinking water and irrigation for many across the region, including rural farms, ranches and native communities.

In August, the federal government declared a water shortage on the Colorado River for the first time, triggering mandatory water consumption cuts for states in the Southwest, as climate change-fueled drought pushes the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell to unprecedented lows.

The low water levels are also threatening power generation; the US Bureau of Reclamation announced in September there is a 3% chance that Lake Powell could drop below the minimum level needed to allow the lake’s Glen Canyon Dam to generate hydroelectricity next year. In 2023, the chance of a shutdown grows to 34%, according to the projection.

The Colorado River Basin and much of the Southwest are in the midst of a climate change-fueled megadrought, which has stretched on for more than 20 years.

A study published in the journal Science in 2020 found that the period from 2000-2018 was the driest 19-year stretch since the late 1500s.

The dryness the region has experienced from 2020 and into 2021 is designated as exceptional — the most severe level of drought — in both the paleoclimate and historical records, according to a study published in September by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s drought task force.

This story and headline have been updated with additional details from the vice president’s visit to Lake Mead.

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