Continuation of Drought Legislation Sought by Bipartisan Western Senators

By on June 27, 2019

Four western senators are looking to build on Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) 2016 California drought legislation that was included in the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.   Senators Feinstein, Cory Gardner (R-CO), Martha McSally (R-AZ.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) recently introduced bipartisan legislation, the Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act, a bill to improve the nation’s water supply and drought resiliency.

Supporters of the legislation are numerous but include the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) and more than 35 water agencies, California cities and other water-related entities. The bill is generous in extending funding under the WIIN Act for an additional five years. Funds are earmarked for $670 million for surface and groundwater storage projects, and supporting conveyance; $100 million for water recycling projects; and $60 million for desalination projects.

“In Colorado and the West, combatting drought requires a comprehensive approach. Storage and conservation are key parts of our water resource management,” said Sen. Gardner. “Tens of millions of people in the western United States rely on Colorado rivers to provide water for agricultural, municipal and consumptive use, as well as support for our growing recreation economy. In the face of these challenges, I’m proud to be joining this bipartisan legislation that will aid efforts to prevent severe water shortages.”

The new Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act will create a new loan program for water agencies at 30-year Treasury rates (currently about 2.6 percent.) This is to encourage investments in new water supply projects; repayment can be deferred until five years after completion of the project. In a nod to restoration of habitats and environmental projects the bill authorizes $140 million for forest, meadow and watershed restoration and projects that benefit threatened and endangered species.

Offsetting the time, money and effort of resiliency and water storage projects the new legislation extends existing WIIN Act provisions and allows water districts to prepay their outstanding capital debts and convert to indefinite length water supply contracts to bring in additional revenue within the next 10 years. It also creates a process to deauthorize inactive water recycling project authorizations.

“The effects of climate change are here to stay, and one enormous effect on the West is more – and more severe – droughts,” said Sen. Feinstein. “As California continues to recover from a historic drought, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory now estimates that the Sierra snowpack, a primary source of water for California, will decrease by 79 percent by the end of the century. If we fail to prepare for this contingency, life in California will be forever altered. Longer and more severe droughts will change the face of our state, undermine our economy, result in more wildfires, devastate our agriculture sector and require draconian water restrictions. To counter this, we must act now, and this bill will help toward that goal.”