The federal government’s Drought Resilience Interagency Working Group is helping coordinate the distribution of $13 billion provided by the infrastructure bill as drought continues to hammer western communities.

Federal agencies including the Interior and Agriculture departments “are working cooperatively in a whole-of-government manner to address drought issues through existing programs and resources,” the Ag Department said in a news release announcing the IWG’s one-year summary.

The 2021 infrastructure bill provided $12.4 billion to DOI and $918 million to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for water-related investments. DOI and USDA co-chair the Drought Resilience IWG, which was created under the White House’s National Climate Task Force. Other agencies involved include the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Intense drought and climate change continue to threaten major economic drivers in rural communities, disrupt food systems and water supplies, endanger public health, jeopardize the integrity of critical infrastructure, and exacerbate wildfires and floods,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

“Through the IWG, collaboration and coordination among federal agencies has increased in an effort to more effectively deploy resources and support during these intense, drought-stricken times. We have also worked to improve and expand our disaster assistance programs to better help producers recover and build resiliency for those being impacted by drought.”

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Most of the infrastructure legislation's funding — $8.3 billion over five years — will go to the Bureau of Reclamation to build drought resilience in the West, with $1.6 billion allocated for fiscal year 2022. Recent announcements include $420 million for rural water projects across the country and more than $240 million for aging infrastructure.

In January, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Vilsack and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Western Governors’ Association to launch a task force that “will help strengthen effective coordination and implementation of priority conservation programs and policies, including those affecting wildlife corridors, wildfire and drought resilience and response, and forest and rangeland restoration,” the summary report says.

In addition to the infrastructure funding, USDA said it is delivering $10 billion in emergency relief for producers harmed by “droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, winter storms, and other eligible natural disaster events experienced during calendar years 2020 and 2021,” the report says. The department announced the Emergency Relief Program in May to assist crop producers after a March announcement of the Emergency Livestock Relief Program

“These investments are in addition to an already extensive portfolio of indemnity, emergency credit, and direct payment disaster recovery programs; they also complement the longer-term climate and drought-related resilience investments that USDA is making in agriculture and rural communities.”

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