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Coalition seeks water funding in infrastructure bill

Issue Date: January 20, 2021
By Dave Kranz

Describing federal investment in Western water management as "essential," a coalition of more than 200 organizations has urged the incoming Biden administration and the new Congress to include water facilities in any future infrastructure or economic-recovery package.

The coalition, including a number of national and regional organizations plus farm groups and water districts from 15 states, sent separate letters last week to President-elect Biden and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate. The letter included specific recommendations for the types of water investments the coalition said could have the greatest impact.

"Water infrastructure investments not only provide immediate short-term economic benefits and create jobs—vital to a nation facing massive job loss—they are the foundation that the economy will need for the foreseeable future," the letters said.

The need has become more acute, the coalition said, due to hydrological conditions linked to climate change, expanding population and the age of Western water facilities, which the letters described as "in desperate need of rehabilitation and improvement."

The letters were spearheaded by the California Farm Bureau, Association of California Water Agencies, Family Farm Alliance, National Water Resources Association and Western Growers.

"To ensure that food can continue to be safely and affordably produced in the West, and that communities, large and small, continue to have access to the water critical to their economies and their health, our organizations believe that critical water supply and wastewater treatment reliability improvements must be included as a necessary part of any federal infrastructure investment," the coalition said.

Among its specific recommendations, the agricultural-water coalition said federal water-infrastructure spending should focus on:

  • Aggressive pursuit of continued water conservation, "in conjunction with new water storage and other actions."
  • New funding to "kick-start" pending water recycling, reuse and desalination projects.
  • Addressing climate-change risks via new reservoir facilities and modified operations at existing dams.
  • Improvements in water conservation and management, fish passage and recovery, and habitat restoration to benefit operation of water projects.
  • Additional water storage, both surface and groundwater, "to adapt to a changing hydrology and develop usable and sustainable supplies to meet growing demands for water." The coalition said new water projects would be "traditional construction using American steel and concrete, while others will be 'green' natural infrastructure projects—all dependent on the wide variety of local needs in place across the West."
  • New and enhanced federal financing mechanisms that have "a very low cost to the Treasury and to taxpayers," plus additional funding for long-term loans from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to local districts that operate and maintain federally owned irrigation projects.
  • Investment in programs and activities to help improve the quantity and quality of water available to rural communities.
  • Policy changes to allow water projects to be built more efficiently: "Making funding available for projects is useless if projects take decades to be approved," the letters said.

The agricultural-water coalition noted that Congress has, in the past, proposed bipartisan recommendations to improve the efficiency of environmental regulation and permitting processes for other types of infrastructure development.

"Water infrastructure should not be treated any differently," the coalition said, "and any infrastructure package should address this concern by streamlining the regulations and permitting processes for water projects."

The letters also asked Congress to encourage federal agencies "to implement a more cooperative approach toward achieving multiple goals under existing environmental laws and regulations."

The farm groups and water districts warned the incoming administration and congressional leaders that pressure is growing "to 'solve' current urban and environmental water shortages by simply moving water away from Western irrigated agriculture." That approach would lead to rising conflict, the coalition said, as well as a further decline in the nation's food security.

"A visionary, bipartisan federal infrastructure package should seek to bolster our aging water infrastructure to keep water flowing to our nation's farms and ranches simultaneous to making improvements for cities and the environment," the coalition's letters said.

In announcing the coalition's efforts, California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said federal investment in water projects "will bring widespread benefits to the environment and throughout the American economy, and will provide jobs, both in rural communities throughout the West and in communities across the country where the equipment and materials for the projects would be produced."

Western Growers President and CEO Dave Puglia described "meaningful and timely" federal investment in water projects, coupled with an improved regulatory system, as necessary "to preserve our farms and strengthen our rural communities in the West."

Family Farm Alliance Executive Director Dan Keppen said inclusion of water projects in a federal infrastructure package would be of "paramount importance" for maintenance, rehabilitation and development of water projects.

The coalition letters were signed by nearly 90 California farm organizations and water agencies, plus groups and agencies from Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, and nearly two-dozen national and regional organizations.

(Dave Kranz is editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at dkranz@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.




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