Hoover Dam generic

Panoramic view of Hoover Dam and the edge of a rainbow.

Water is one of the perennial issues of the West. The traditional questions are, “How much is there?” and “Who gets to use it?” but questions about storage are increasingly common too.

On June 20, Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Martha McSally (R-AZ), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced S. 1932, the Drought Resiliency and Water Supply Infrastructure Act. Among other things, the bill would make $670 million available in grants for water storage projects.

“In Colorado and the West, combatting drought requires a comprehensive approach,” said Gardner in announcing the bill’s introduction. “Storage and conservation are key parts of our water resource management. 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.”

Feinstein framed the bill in terms of addressing the effects of climate change and predictions of radically decreased Sierra snowpack 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.”

Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River District, told WLJ that the bill’s bipartisan Western sponsorship was encouraging.

“I think that it’s a constructive bill. I think it’s an appropriate bill in that it recognizes both the need for additional federal investment and involvement in Western water management and specifically in infrastructure investment, both new and recognizing our aging infrastructure.”

Though he acknowledged the appropriation levels proposed were relatively low, he also said many of the most cost-efficient water supply efforts lie in investing in existing infrastructure.

“Some modernization, some improvements, some efficiencies, that will both result in water conservation as well as improved delivery on farms.”

Under the bill, the secretary of the interior could provide grants to “eligible entities”—states, state departments, tribes, water users’ associations, interstate compact agencies, or public agencies—for water storage projects. This could include both federally-owned projects and non-federal projects.

Grants could be awarded “for the design, study, construction, expansion, upgrade, or capital repair” of water storage projects. The bill would allow 50 percent grants for federal projects and 25 percent grants for non-federal projects.

The bill would allocate the $670 million in grant funds from 2020-2024.

The bill would also provide $150 million between 2021-2025 for a pilot program for water supply projects in 14 Western continental states, as well as Hawaii and Alaska. The pilot program would allow the secretary of the interior to provide “financial assistance” for projects that “would contribute directly or indirectly (including through groundwater recharge) to a safe, adequate water supply for domestic, agricultural, environmental, or municipal or industrial use.”

Other appropriation details covered by the bill include:

• $100 million between 2020-2024 for water recycling and reuse projects;

• $60 million between 2020-2024 for desalination projects;

• $140 million variously allocated between 2020-2024 for environmental efforts, including habitat restoration and efforts to protect threatened and endangered species; and

• Deauthorization of previously-cleared water recycling projects that failed to meet requirements.

As of press, the bill had only been introduced to the Senate. It had not been referred to committee or acted upon in any way. — Kerry Halladay, WLJ editor

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