Water Conversations in Congress

Water Conversations in Congress

By: Casey Hammond - Federal Advocate, Water Strategies

The last quarter of the year produced some wins for the League with more opportunities for success to come. Most recently, the House of Representatives narrowly passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (H.R. 3684) which had already passed the Senate, which President Biden signed on November 15. The bill provides $8.3 billion for Bureau of Reclamation Western Water, $3.2 billion for Reclamation Aging Infrastructure, $400 million for WaterSMART, and $1.5 billion for Reclamation water storage, groundwater storage and conveyance projects. Additionally, $40 billion was included for the rehabilitation, replacement, and construction for bridges.

Thanks to a coordinated effort between the League and Senator Cantwell’s office, the bill will provide for groundwater storage and conveyance projects, including those like the Odessa Ground Water Replacement Program (OGWRP). And, it includes an amendment authored by Senator Cantwell, which the League closely guided, to create a new program to provide federal financial and technical assistance for groundwater recharge, aquifer storage and recovery, and water source substitution for aquifer protection projects. Had it not been for this amendment, OGWRP would not qualify for any funding provided by this bill.

Work continues on annual appropriations for Fiscal Year 2022. Congress passed a Continuing Resolution to extend current funding levels through December 3rd. It is a work in progress to track the $2 million for the Bureau of Reclamation intended for OGWRP, which is still stationed, to be included in final passage. The process is continually pushed back with competing challenges such as the debt ceiling, the infrastructure package and the reconciliation package known as Build Back Better. However, it became common practice for the appropriations process to be extended past the end of the fiscal year.

Finally, there have been some notable and familiar faces added to the Department of Interior roster at the end of 2021. In a seemingly rare unifying vote by voice on November 4, the Senate approved long-time friend of the Columbia Basin Project, Camille Touton, as Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. The commissioner has previous experience within the Department of the Interior and years of relevant experience on Capitol Hill.

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