The bipartisan infrastructure agreement that the Senate is preparing to debate includes $8.3 billion in Western water infrastructure funding sought by farm groups in the region that is suffering through an extended drought.
There was concern the overall amount of funding to Western water infrastructure had been trimmed during the negotiations, but ag groups received confirmation Wednesday night that it would be included as is, according to Dan Keppen, executive director of Family Farm Alliance, which has been advocating for Western water needs along with a coalition of over 200 other ag groups.
The funding would be allocated to the Bureau of Reclamation over a five-year period starting in fiscal 2022.
The funding includes $3.2 billion for aging infrastructure and $1.15 billion for water storage, groundwater storage, and conveyance, as well as funds for water recycling, desalination, rural water projects, dam safety, the Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency plan, waterSMART grants, watershed health, and aquatic ecosystems.
Keppen said the $1.15 billion would be welcome in places such as California's Central Valley, where the land has settled and caused conveyance facilities to flatten and become incapable of moving water.
“The only silver lining that might come out of this drought is that it's going to underscore the urgency to do this sort of thing, to get out in front of it,” Keppen said.
Another $50 million is authorized for the Colorado River fish species recovery program, which Keppen said is supported by water users up and down the river.
Where Keppen farms in Oregon's Klamath Basin, farmers have been denied water allocations because all the available water has been reallocated to support fish listed on the Endangered Species Act. He said the Colorado River program collaborates with farmers, avoiding these sorts of issues.
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The bill doesn't meet the Western ag groups’ full request for forest health, although some funding for forest health was included.
The Western ag groups' proposal included around $30 billion for forest restoration. Keppen said they hope to find other legislation to get those needs met, potentially through the budget reconciliation bill that Democrats want to pass.
The Senate voted 67-32 on Wednesday to begin debate on the bipartisan infrastructure bill, but the measure's actual text still hadn't been released as of Thursday.
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