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New law is good news for the West

Water Lines: The Natural Resources Management Act addresses a range of important issues for Western water users.

Dan Keppen

March 19, 2019

3 Min Read
Capitol Building, Washington D.C.
CONGRESS IN ACTION: A new law covers a wide range of issues of value to the West, from key water projects to conservation issues. YayaErnst/Getty Images

The Family Farm Alliance and its members in February cheered the congressional passage of the Natural Resources Management Act (S. 47), a broad package of more than 100 public lands, natural resources, and water bills considered in the 115th Congress.

This legislation is important to the alliance as it addresses title transfers, endangered fish recovery programs, the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, WaterSMART (Sustain and Manage America’s Resources for Tomorrow) and Bureau of Reclamation transparency. It also includes the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act, which includes alliance-supported provisions that emphasize funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

And in early March, the bill was signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The bill permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports state and federal land acquisition, state recreation planning grants and other outdoor recreational programs. Alliance energies focused on water provisions in the bill that:

• authorize Reclamation to convey ownership of relatively uncomplicated transferred works to local operating water entities without further action by Congress

• reauthorize the Upper Colorado and San Juan Endangered Fish Recovery Program at $10 million annually for fiscal years 2020-23

• require Reclamation to report on transparency of future extraordinary maintenance on its infrastructure facilities

The bill also authorizes Phase 3 of the Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project, an integrated water management program that will continue to boost water storage, increase conservation, and enhance fish and wildlife habitat in the Yakima Basin in Washington. Over the last decade, this unique and diverse collaboration has emerged in the Yakima Basin and focused on developing a collective vision for the future of water in the watershed: a future where there is water for farming, water for fish, and water for families even when we have years of less-than-adequate water supplies.

Thinking WILD

The bill further includes the Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver (WILD) Act, which promotes wildlife conservation, assists in the management of invasive species and helps protect endangered species. Western farmers and ranchers know that partnerships — not top-heavy regulations and litigation — can best provide for real species protections and recoveries. There is a way to encourage collaboration and consultation with states and private stakeholders as partners in meeting the objectives of the federal Endangered Species Act, while ensuring that the law is applied consistently and without conflict of interest. 

Western water managers also have strong concerns regarding the need to emphasize the proper management of invasive species. This bill places priority on the Partners Program and addresses several other critical challenges Western water users face, including invasive species management.

The Family Farm Alliance testified in support of all these issues over the past several Congresses, and monitored and engaged bill progress through their Washington, D.C., representation. Some of the provisions included in this package have spanned three or more Congresses. Perseverance and hard work by members of Congress, committee staff, and Western water users kept these issues alive for when the right legislative vehicle arrived.

The lands package was that vehicle.

Keppen is executive director of the Family Farms Alliance.

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