On Tuesday Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced S.4231, the Support to Rehydrate the Environment, Agriculture and Municipalities Act or STREAM Act, a bill they claim would increase water supply and modernize water infrastructure in California and throughout the West.
“As the past two years have painfully demonstrated, severe and prolonged drought exacerbated by climate change is the stark reality for the West,” said Senator Feinstein. “If we don’t take action now to improve our drought resilience, it’s only going to get worse. We need an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy to meet this challenge, including increasing our water supply, incentivizing projects that provide environmental benefits and drinking water for disadvantaged communities, and investing in environmental restoration efforts.”
“As Arizona continues to navigate this historic drought, it’s more important than ever to build infrastructure that promotes a secure water future. Combined with the investments made in the bipartisan infrastructure law, this legislation will help Arizona and the West expand drought resiliency projects, increase groundwater storage, and better manage and conserve our water resources,” said Senator Kelly.
“Our STREAM Act builds on our bipartisan infrastructure law’s investments modernizing and increasing Arizona’s water supply by strengthening Arizona’s water storage, recycling and desalination projects, helping ensure Arizona’s water future is safe and secure,” said Senator Sinema.
The STREAM Act includes major provisions to achieve each of these goals:
Improving the West’s water supply:
- Authorizes $750 million for storage, $300 million for water recycling, $150 million for desalination, $100 million for drinking water for disadvantaged communities and $150 million in a new, low-interest loan program for water supply projects. This builds on the $1.15 billion for storage, $550 million for water recycling and $250 million for desalination in the bipartisan infrastructure law.
- In combination with the bipartisan infrastructure law, this funding would provide California with more than 1 million additional acre-feet of water per year on average, enough water for more than 6 million people, including:
- 532,000 additional acre-feet from water recycling projects.
- 425,000 additional acre-feet from offstream storage and groundwater storage projects (including construction of Sites Reservoir, expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir and the raising of B.F. Sisk Dam, plus other potential projects like the Sacramento Regional Groundwater Bank and Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir).
- 85,000 additional acre-feet from water desalination projects.
- In Arizona, the bill further advances a proposal to raise Bartlett Dam on the Verde River to counteract the loss of capacity due in part to the accumulation of sediment. The groundwater storage and conveyance, desalination and water recycling funding in the bill could also help other Arizona drought resilience projects.
Financial incentives for storage and conveyance projects that enhance environmental benefits and expand drinking water access for disadvantaged communities:
- The bill authorizes grants for storage and conveyance projects that include environmental benefits, drinking water benefits for disadvantaged communities or other public benefits either as part of the project design or as part of a watershed restoration plan adopted together with the project.
- The bill authorizes low-interest loans if they build storage and conveyance projects that solely provide irrigation and general municipal and industrial water supply benefits. (Sponsors of storage and conveyance projects generally prefer to receive federal grants rather than federal loans.)
- Access to grants gives project sponsors a strong financial incentive to design environmental and disadvantaged community benefits into their projects. This approach builds on the experience of the Proposition 1 water bond California’s voters passed by a 2-1 margin in 2014, which also incentivizes projects with environmental and other public benefits.
Funding for separate environmental restoration projects:
- Authorizes $250 million for environmental restoration benefits, including helping imperiled species adapt to climate change.
- Authorizes an additional $50 million for natural water retention and release projects. These projects would help restore stream and river channels with natural materials like wetlands and could have multiple benefits, including increased groundwater recharge, improved flood protection and increased floodplain habitat to benefit salmon and other species.
- Authorizes funding to facilitate creation of essential seasonal habitat for migratory birds on fields fallowed by agricultural producers in the Sacramento Valley when they sell their water to other farmers and cities during times of drought.
- Authorizes pay-for-performance environmental restoration approaches that award grants contingent on the success of the restoration effort. These approaches can expedite environmental restoration and build public/private partnerships to increase the number of acres restored.