Fighting for western water: Sen. Barrasso’s proposed bill helps Wyo water infrastructure
On June 23, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) introduced the Western Water Infrastructure Act of 2021. The act, introduced by the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, is aimed to help the western states during drought by authorizing funding to eliminate infrastructure maintenance backlog.
Barrasso explains, “Water is the lifeblood of everything we do in Wyoming. From cattle ranching to energy exploration to recreation, it’s critical to our lives and our livelihoods.”
Water is one of the most important natural resources to the state, and Barrasso is a key leader in addressing the shortage the country is facing.
“My legislation will fix aging irrigation systems and storage infrastructure so Americans have access to a clean, reliable supply of water. I will give the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) the tools it needs to better manage water in the West,” Barrasso says.
In short, the new bill supports rehabilitation of dams, sediment management and enhanced infrastructure inspection.
“This bill unlocks new funding for important BuRec surface and groundwater storage programs that will help western states like Wyoming to build our storage needs,” states Gov. Mark Gordon, in favor of the bill. “It also prioritizes maintenance and inspections for BuRec facilities, which is a major step in the right direction to make rural communities safer and more resilient.”
Priorities of the bill
While the entirety of the bill is complex, the bill outlines different sections.
First, the bill will reauthorize certain reclamation programs. According to the section-by-section guide of the bill, “Grandfathered projects would be eligible for the new funding under these sections, but would not be subject to the other requirements of this section.”
Secondly, an increase in funding for water management would be instated. In lieu of the WaterSmart program, funding of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act would increase.
The next section requires an annual report to Congress on future western water storage projects.
“The authorizing committees and Congress would have to approve such projects and feasibility reports in the report through an Act of Congress before they can receive funding,” the report summarizes.
In an effort to better BuRec facilities, section six of the Western Water Infrastructure Act asks for contracts for enhanced inspection. With the use of innovative technology, aging facilities are subject to the availability of appropriations.
Section seven of the bill is designed to improve reservoir sediment management. Project beneficiaries have requested this plan to share the cost of development and implementation.
The section-by-section guide shares, “This section creates a new program to restore water storage capacity at BuRec and U.S. Army Corps of Engineer reservoirs.”
Finally, the Western Water Infrastructure Act hopes to eliminate the BuRec maintenance backlog. By contributing more money to the agency, there should be more support to the rehabilitation, reconstruction and replacement of old dams.
With any new bill comes new funding. Barrasso has allocated the funds without compromising other industries. Still, this bill will not be cheap.
The new bill will authorize $1.6 billion to surface and ground water storage projects. If new projects have a project recommendation specifically approved in an Act of Congress, it can receive these funds. Under the same section, desalination and recycling projects have been authorized $500 million in new money.
The WaterSmart program under the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 will grant $300 million to increase funding for water management improvement.
Section six of the bill will authorize $50 million. This money is designated to upgrading technology and enhancing inspection in aging infrastructures.
Finally, another $5 billion has been authorized to “eliminate the maintenance backlog for BuRec projects identified in an Asset Management Report,” says the section-by-section report.
Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.