The Senate approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. It includes funding for Western water projects, which farmers, water providers, and environmentalists believe are urgently needed in this region.
The Senate voted this week in favor of the legislation that seeks to rebuild U.S. roads and highways, improve broadband internet access and modernize water pipes and public works systems. The House’s future is uncertain for the bill.
As the West is suffering from a drought for decades that has been putting pressure on its water supply, federal funding will be available.
Here are some examples of how the $8.3 Billion for water projects could bring relief in the coming years.
The plan would allocate $1.15 billion to improve water storage and transport infrastructure, such as canals and dams. Groundwater storage projects that replenish underground aquifers and are not susceptible to evaporation would also be funded. Western states have for years over-pumped groundwater from wells during dry years, even causing land to sink in parts of California.
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat who helped to get the water provisions into the bill, stated that California must do more to store water and stretch its use in wet years to ensure enough water to last through dry years.
$1 billion could be used to recycle wastewater for industrial and household use, helping to stretch water supplies. Many cities and states have programs to recycle storm water runoff or wastewater. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for managing water, dams, and reservoirs in 17 Western States. It would determine which projects will be funded.
PLAN FOR DROUGHT
The Colorado River supplies water to over 40 million people. It is also being drained by prolonged droughts, scorching temperatures, and climate change. The bill would provide $300,000,000 for drought measures such as conservation and storage projects to preserve water levels in the river’s reservoirs. It also prevents additional water cuts.
The first ever declaration of a shortage at the river is already expected to be made next week. Some Arizona farmers will be among those to feel the effects next year.
The bill would allocate $250 billion to studies and projects that make brackish and sea water available for industrial, agricultural and municipal purposes. Desalination plants use ocean water to filter salty water. This water is often returned to the sea. Although the technology is costly, it’s becoming increasingly important to provide water supply in areas that are more drought-prone.
Improvements and repairs to dams used for water supply, flood control, and hydropower would cost approximately $800 million. Scores of dams across the U.S. are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to state and federal agencies. Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated in 2017 due to damage at California’s Oroville Dam. Feinstein’s office recently said that California alone has 89 dams that are “in less than satisfactory condition.”
A further $1 billion would go towards water projects in rural areas. These areas are home to aging infrastructure and water treatment plants that are often in dire need of repairs.
The infrastructure plan funding could have an impact on the West if taken together, according to Dan Keppen (executive director of Family Farm Alliance), which advocates for farmers, ranchers, and irrigation districts.
He said, “It’s kind of an all-of the-above approach, and that’s exactly what’s required.”