March 17, 2021

Western Ag United in Adding Water to Infrastructure Bill

As we start the new Biden Administration, water policy and water infrastructure hold a prominent position. President Biden has indicated that he is concerned about job growth because of COVID’s impact. With so many Americans out of work or underemployed he wants to jump start the economy and believes an infrastructure bill can help do that.

President Biden also believes that a major infrastructure push is critical to addressing the challenge of China having recently said: “If we don’t get going moving, they’re going to eat our lunch.”

Finally, President Biden hopes that the infrastructure package can also lead to building an America that is more climate friendly. Indeed, President Biden has begun to meet with Congressional leaders on constructing a bipartisan infrastructure package and we expect the White House to make an announcement on the details they would like to see by March.

As a result, Western Growers has been working with national partners for months to bring together a coalition across the entire Western United States. We believe that it is absolutely critical to ensure that water is included in any infrastructure package that moves this Congress. More than 200 organizations—agricultural groups, rural water districts and urban water providers—signed a letter and are now working together to push Western Congressional and Senate leaders on this issue. We are all interested in seeing significant resources being allocated to water as part of this infrastructure push. Money to repair existing infrastructure that is crumbling, money to conserve water, money for new water conveyance, money for green infrastructure and money for conventional steel and concrete infrastructure storage are what we are pushing to see included. We believe an infrastructure package will move over the spring and early summer. The group is optimistic that we will be able to include significant new resources for water infrastructure in the infrastructure package.

The Biden Administration has frozen and is reviewing a host of regulations that the Trump Administration put into place concerning water. During the last several years, the Trump Administration has brought forward many regulations that are helpful in moving water through existing infrastructure or is helpful in pushing existing projects forward. For example, the biological opinion that the Obama Administration ordered for the species that impact the Delta pumps in California was brought to completion by the Trump Administration. The resulting biological opinion has been hailed by water users as providing additional flexibility resulting in more water deliveries but criticized by environmental groups (indeed they have brought a lawsuit against the opinion). That biological opinion has been ordered to be reviewed by the new administration. If the Biden Administration moves against the Trump decision, then we would see yet another lengthy biological opinion process (the last one took two and half years or so to complete) with a result that surely would be challenged in court by whichever side loses. This is one example of many. Given these uncertainties, we will be working to preserve as many of the Trump regulations and decisions as we can.

The advent of the Biden Administration brings both hope and challenges for Western water. With respect to legislation, we are hopeful that new resources can be brought to bear—every Western Growers state needs more money for water from the Rio Grande in New Mexico to the Colorado River basin that feeds Colorado, Arizona and Southern California agriculture to the Central Valley and beyond. Drought is never far from growers’ thoughts. We are hopeful that an infrastructure package will include some potential relief on the water front, but we are cautious about challenges that producers face with potential new regulations and the rollback of existing decisions.

For many growers, those regulatory decisions are the critical factor that determines their water delivery on an annual basis. The Western Growers federal government affairs staff is mindful of that and we will be just as diligent on the regulatory front as we are in trying to secure new sources of water.