A national coalition representing thousands of Western farmers, ranchers, water providers, businesses and communities earlier this month applauded passage of the Energy Infrastructure Act by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR).
The coalition - led by the Family Farm Alliance, Western Growers, California Farm Bureau, National Water Resources Association, and the Association of California Water Agencies - is now pushing for the full Senate to expeditiously take up the bill on the floor.
In this time of often bitter partisan strife, Western farmers, ranchers, businesses and residents should be heartened by the efforts of Chairman Joe Manchin (D-WV) and the Senate ENR Committee for their commitment to drafting and passing a balanced infrastructure package that includes resources for critical Western water supply needs.
The coalition includes more than 220 organizations from 15 states that collectively represent $120 billion in agricultural production—nearly one-third of all agricultural production in the country—and many of the local and regional public water agencies that supply water to more than 75 million urban, suburban and rural residents.
The Western water elements included in the bill are encouraging. Changing Western hydrological conditions and expanding populations require immediate federal investments in repairing aging water infrastructure and developing new sources of water supply.
In addition to the stabilizing the West’s water outlook, the infrastructure package represents a historic opportunity to aid in the nation’s economic recovery. Both workers and the economy will benefit from the increased demand for equipment and materials these water projects will require from American companies.
But the time to act is now. As drought conditions move from bad to worse across the West, action is needed. This unprecedented West-wide drought requires a level of reaction that is immediate and sustainable.
Here are the key Western water provisions in the bill:
- Aging Infrastructure: $3.2 billion, includes $100 million for certain Bureau of Reclamation projects suffering a critical failure and $100 million for repairs to certain Carey Act dams
- Water Storage, Groundwater Storage and Conveyance: $1.15 billion, includes $100 million for new 25% 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
- Colorado River 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
The future of the ENR bill is uncertain given that the politics of the infrastructure debate are quite fluid. However, the current expectation is that it will be included in the bipartisan “hard infrastructure” legislative package—the framework of which was agreed to in late June by the bipartisan “Group of 20” Senators and the White House—which is slated for a vote on the Senate floor sometime before the start of the currently scheduled August Recess.