WASHINGTON, March 16, 2015 – Over 100 Western organizations, including commodity groups and state Farm Bureaus, penned a letter urging Congress to speedily pass drought legislation.

The letter asked Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to pass a bill into law that solves the immediate and long-term impacts of drought before the end of the year. The groups’ note is a follow-up to a letter of the same sentiment sent in October of last year.

One of the signatories, Western Growers President and CEO Tom Nassif, said in a joint release today that “Too much progress has already been made to let the Committee’s hard work go to waste. The people and the environment in the Western states cannot continue to suffer because of congressional inaction.”

“The time to act is now,” Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau, said. “Every effort must be made to capture the benefits of the recent storms while ensuring our collective resiliency in the face of future droughts.”

Since 2000, the letter reads, the Colorado River Basin has been drier than it’s been for over 100 years; and California, the nation’s largest agricultural producer, is experiencing its worst drought since the 13th century. In the Southwest, rain events are “becoming rarer and rarer, with drier conditions the new normal,” the groups said, citing a study published last month in Geophysical Research Letters.

The drought in the West has exacerbated the risk and severity of forest fires in the West, too, the letter continued, and “one year of heavy rain in California or dense snowpack in the Rockies… does not solve the drought.”

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The groups asked for legislation that would encourage the modernization of Western water systems, a process they say includes adopting real-time monitoring and data collection for water supply and aquatic species management, “more flexible” environmental laws and regulations, and new water storage infrastructure.

A pending bill introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls for increased pumping from the Bay Delta and allowing more water to be pumped during periods of high river flows.

“I believe now more than ever that the bill I submitted last month is necessary, appropriate and will result in real help during this historic drought,” Feinstein said in a release.

Associate Editor Steve Davies contributed to this story.


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