09 Jun Western Water Infrastructure Coalition on a Mission
A national coalition of over 200 agricultural organizations and urban and rural water districts is urging the federal government to bolster investment in the nation’s aging and inadequate (agricultural) water facilities. Washington State and the Columbia Basin Development League (League) are active members.
Led by the Family Farm Alliance and the National Water Resources Association, as well as the Western Growers, California Farm Bureau, and the Association of California Water Agencies, the coalition includes organizations from 15 states that collectively represent $120 billion in agricultural production—nearly one-third of all agricultural production in the country—and tens of millions of urban and rural water users.
In January, the coalition called on the administration and congressional leaders to invest in a diversified water management portfolio that enhances water supply and quality for urban and environmental uses, while keeping water flowing to Western farms and rural communities.
Then, coalition members went to work identifying specific water infrastructure needs in anticipation of Biden’s infrastructure proposal released in March. Representing Washington State, the Washington State Water Resources Association (WSWRA), Yakima Joint Board (YBJB), and the League identified over $1.7 billion in Washington State water infrastructure needs in the next five years. Working with the Columbia Basin Project (CBP) irrigation districts, the League identified over $443 million in CBP infrastructure needs, alone, and priority CBP projects were also identified for a FY 22 funding request.
Washington State partners began generating awareness about these figures in March. Information was shared with the Washington State Department of Ecology—Office of the Columbia River (OCR) which used the figures in an appeal to Governor Inslee’s office for federal advocacy. OCR also used the figures to inform OCR federal FY22 appropriations requests.
The League also met with Washington congressional offices in March. Those meetings focused on:
- Appreciation for FY21 appropriations
- FY22 priorities
- The discrepancy between current appropriations and the actual water infrastructure funding need
In April, Washington State partners set to work on submitting joint water infrastructure request letters. Informed by messaging developed in regular coalition meetings, WSWRA, YBJB, and the League sent jointly signed letters to members of the Washington congressional delegation urging inclusion of agriculture water supply infrastructure in any future infrastructure or recovery package, and noting that:
“The stakeholders represented through WSWRA, YBJB and CBDL are doing what they can to
advance infrastructure construction and improvement projects like those in the Yakima Basin
Integrated Plan or the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program. But, these projects and
many more like them are failing to keep up with need due to inadequate funding. This vital
work could be completed more quickly and benefit agriculture, the environment, our rural
communities, state and national economies with the aid of a broad-based infrastructure funding
“The need for immediate and long-term investment is significant and of a magnitude only the federal government can provide.”
WSWRA, YBJB, and the League also coordinated a similar joint letter to the Washington congressional delegation signed by multiple agricultural stakeholder groups. And, together, the Washington partners coordinated the publication of guest editorials in various community newspapers highlighting the need for agricultural water infrastructure to be included in the infrastructure package being debated in Congress.
Simultaneously, similar efforts were underway in the 15 other Western coalition states. Participating in the Western Water Infrastructure Coalition unified Washington State efforts and Western States effort and resulted in greater awareness of the need to address aging and inadequate water infrastructure. But the work is not done. While Senator Murray and Representatives Newhouse and McMorris Rodgers are responding favorably to Washington State efforts, funding is ultimately dependent on Congress as a whole. The coalition has more work ahead.
In May the Coalition sent a second letter to the chair and ranking member of the Senate and Natural Resources Committee urging action to address the shortcomings of our aging Western agricultural, municipal, industrial and rural water infrastructure. Stakeholder support is growing. Those signing exceeded the 200 threshold of the first letter.