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Serving: West

Farm groups seek $49 billion for Western water, forests

Tim Hearden WFP-hearden-water-west-011621-1.jpg
An irrigation canal carries water to farms south of Klamath Falls, Ore., in 2020.
More than 200 groups have been pushing for funding in infrastructure bill to fix aging canals, reservoirs.

Even as a federal infrastructure bill teeters on the brink of failure, more than 200 Western farm and water organizations pushing for canal and reservoir repairs are proposing nearly $49 billion for projects improving water conveyance, dam safety and forest health.

In a letter June 9 to Chairman Joe Manchin and Ranking Member John Barrasso of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, organizations ranging from Western Growers to the Idaho Potato Commission cited an "acute and critical need" magnified by another all-too-familiar drought.

“This funding will assist in addressing critical safety needs, develop new infrastructure, invest in smart water technology and conservation, and improve forest and water ecosystems," the coalition's letter stated. "Additionally, it will spur economic recovery and prepare us to meet the water needs of the next generation in the face of a changing climate."

Related: Biden administration begins rewrite of water rule

Specifcially, the groups want:

  • More than $13 billion in Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure needs over the next 10 years, including storage and conveyance, dam safety, rural water, water-smart technologies, and water recycling and reuse projects.
  • $34 billion for USDA to undertake forest restoration, watershed protection and flood prevention projects.
  • $1.75 billion for Army Corps of Engineers water storage projects and environmental infrastructure.

The organizations argue that changing hydrological conditions and an expanding population in the West raise serious concerns about the future viability of the nation’s water infrastructure. The groups, which together represent $120 billion in agricultural production in 15 states, say the region needs a diversified water management portfolio that serves a broad range of water uses.

Broad coalition

National groups that signed the letter included the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association and the United Potato Growers of America.

In the West, signatories included the Almond Alliance, the California Walnut Commission, the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association, the Klamath Water Users Association, the Oregon Association of Nurseries, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, the Western Agricultural Processors Association, and state Farm Bureaus from Arizona, Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

The groups' latest proposal comes as talks between the White House and Senate Republicans have stalled over President Joe Biden's $1.7 trillion infrastructure bill, which would include $111 billion for drinking water infrastructure; $50 billion for various drought, wildfire and agricultural resources management infrastructure investments; $45 billion for lead pipe cleanup; and $10 billion to monitor drinking water, according to the Association of California Water Agencies.

Related: White House panel to address Western water

A bipartisan group of House of Representatives members have proposed an 8-year package that comes with a $1.249 trillion price tag, including $500 billion in new spending, Fox News reports. The bill calls for $587 billion for highway and bridges, $160 billion for transit, $24 billion on electric vehicle infrastructure among other initiatives, according to the network.

West Virginia's Manchin, the Senate's most conservative Democrat, has said he wouldn't support an infrastructure bill that didn't have Republican support.

Groups press Biden

The coalition of agricultural groups and water agencies joined forces after nearly 60 growers and organization leaders spoke in a December online forum on getting the most from limited water supplies in the West. The coalition has complained that Biden's American Jobs Plan doesn't provide enough funding for above- or below-ground storage.

Related: More water spending sought for West in infrastructure bill

Biden in April convened a White House panel to address drought in the West, focusing on immediate financial and technical assistance for affected irrigators and Native American tribes. The working group will be led by the Interior and Agriculture departments and coordinate with other federal agencies as well as state, local and tribal governments to address the needs of suffering communities, the USDA explained.

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