By Dennis Nuxoll, Vice President, Federal Government Affairs
Last year, Western Growers began working to create a coalition across the Western United States to insist that any infrastructure package that Congress passed must include significant resources for water infrastructure in the West.
In early August, the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that contains the fruit of many, many months of hard work from hundreds of organizations in the West who, working together, were able to get major funding for Western water needs. While some funding categories fall slightly short of needs on the ground, the bipartisan package includes roughly $8 billion, which would go a long way toward repairing crumbling water infrastructure in the West, increasing water recycling and water desalination, making significant investments in habitat restoration, enhancing water conservation efforts and constructing critical new storage and conveyance, including both natural and traditional infrastructure.
Taken together, the Western water package included in the bipartisan bill represents a historic opportunity to create balanced water management tools that align with solutions Western water managers have sought for years. This federal investment will increase water security for tens of millions Americans.
The idea behind this proposal was to put forward a unified package that agricultural organizations, rural water districts and urban water districts across each and every Western state could get behind. Rather than target specific projects as has been historically done, we wanted to target large programs from which specific projects would be funded. We wanted to create a wide range of water management options so local circumstance could dictate solutions not bureaucrats in Washington. What might work in Idaho might not work in Arizona and what works in Arizona might be different than what works in Colorado.
That basic philosophy was the driving force behind creating a large proposal that embraced so many types of solutions. We also believed that by working together we would be better positioned to get Western congressional members of the House and Senate onboard. Rather than fight for one project in one state, we worked together to fight for funding that would help projects in every state.
About 220 organizations joined the effort over the past year, and as a result of that work, we have raised awareness of Western water issues. We have raised the profile of the Western issues that often gets lost in East Coast press bias. We have a national level steering committee as well as teams advocating in each state. Coupled with these outreach efforts to Congress, we also have active communications teams working in each state and at the national level to help push the narrative.
Those efforts have been mostly successful with the Senate passage of the bipartisan bill that included a huge Western water investment. Now, we have to marshal the forces to push the bill through the House of Representatives and ensure the money stays in place as do the policy positions.
Once that is done, we will be turning our attention to the reconciliation package that may move in the fall. We believe there is an opportunity and a need to try and secure some additional funds in that package around things that may have been left out of the bipartisan deal. As drought ravages the West, every Western Growers member feels it. We know that crop productivity is down. We know water supply is down and costs are up. We know the future is uncertain so that’s why we are working to at the very least ensure that the federal government ramps up its efforts to help the West with water problems caused by a changing climate.
Here is what is in the package for Western Water:
· Aging Infrastructure: $3.2 billion, includes $100 million for certain Bureau of Reclamation projects suffering a critical failure and $100 million for repairs to specific Carey Act dams
· Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance (WIIN Act): $1.15 billion, includes $100 million for new 25 percent grants for small surface/groundwater storage projects
· Water Recycling: $1 billion, includes $450 million for new authorized large water recycling project grant program
· Desalination: $250 million
· Rural Water: $1 billion
· Dam Safety: $500 million
· Drought Contingency Plan: $300 million, includes $50 million for Upper Basin States
· WaterSMART: $400 million, includes $100 million for natural infrastructure projects
· Cooperative Watershed Management: $100 million
· Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Program: $250 million
· Watershed enhancement projects: $100 million
· Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation Programs: $50 million
· Forest management efforts: While a little more indirect the bill includes more than $3 billion for USDA and Department of Interior efforts to improve forest management which have both wildfire and water benefits.
· Ecosystem restoration: $2 billion for USDA and Department of Interior efforts to help ecosystem restoration programs, which helps lower pressure on various water projects by ensuring environmental concerns are addressed.