March 24, 2021

Wyden and Merkley Introduce Bill to Improve Water Access for Agriculture and Conservation as West Continues to Face Drought

Wyden highlighted legislation during today's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Water and Power Subcommittee hearing

Video Available Here

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., today reintroduced the Water for Conservation and Farming Act to help communities in Oregon and across the West experiencing high levels of drought. Their bill will improve water access for agriculture and conservation by funding projects that improve dam safety, create more resilient watersheds and benefit agricultural and urban water users.

Wyden highlighted the importance of the legislation while chairing the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Water and Power Subcommittee hearing on western water management. A video of Wyden's remarks can be found here.

“The water shortages out West have big time ramifications for critical habitats and farmers and ranchers who have to make decisions now about their crops. There is no time to wait – Congress must make every tool available to align water availability with water needs,” Wyden said. “Investing in water conservation infrastructure will pay dividends in reducing the demand for water, improving biodiversity and helping farmers and ranchers better plan and prepare for droughts.”

“Especially as our summers get warmer and drier, we have to make sure that we put in place the kind of reliable, resilient water infrastructure that every farmer, tribe, and community in our state can count on,” Merkley said. “Now is the time to pass this bill, make crucial investments in our environmental protections possible, and put safe water access within reach for everyone—regardless of what they look like or where they live.”

States, Tribes and local communities are working diligently to upgrade crumbling water infrastructure but have lacked the critical resources to make meaningful improvements that last. The Water for Conservation and Farming Act would provide millions for projects that support agriculture, provide multiple water benefits and make significant steps to improve the nation’s agricultural water supply.

The Water for Conservation and Farming Act of 2021:

  • Creates a Bureau of Reclamation fund of $300 million to support water recycling projects, water-use efficiency projects and dam safety projects;
  • Expands the WaterSMART program to increase water supply reliability by funding infrastructure and conservation projects that conserves water, increases water use efficiency and improves the condition of natural water recharge infrastructure;
  • Establishes a $3.5 million waterbird and shorebird habitat program to provide incentives to farmers to create temporary habitat for bird migration;
  • Authorizes $40 million for the Department of the Interior’s Cooperative Watershed Management Program, for water and conservation projects that support disadvantaged communities and generate environmental benefits, such as benefits to fisheries, wildlife and habitats;
  • Establishes a grant program for any Reclamation States, Tribes, nonprofit conservation organizations, irrigation or water districts, and regional and local authorities to complete habitat restoration projects that improve watershed health and mitigate climate change;
  • Improves drought planning and preparedness by requiring federal agencies to prepare a plan to sustain the survival of critically important fisheries during eras of drought; and
  • Authorizes $25 million through 2027 for fish passage projects under the Fisheries Restoration and Irrigation Mitigation Act to support voluntary fish screen and passage projects in Oregon, Washington, California, Montana and Idaho.

The Water for Conservation and Farming Act was first introduced last year, with several provisions included in the spending package passed into law in December 2020, including provisions to improve drinking water quality and supply, especially for disadvantaged communities, through community watershed management; establish an aquatic ecosystem restoration program to improve the health of fisheries, wildlife or aquatic habitat; and ensure non-profit organizations, in addition to farmers and ranchers have access to increased WaterSMART funding.

The bill text can be found here.