State and Federal Policy Updates: Infrastructure and Economic Stimulus on the Front Burner
From agricultural efficiency projects and maintenance of existing facilities to natural and physical infrastructure projects, the Western Slope has no shortage of needs when it comes to state and federal water investments. As the U.S. Congress and the Colorado General Assembly consider new infrastructure spending proposals, the Colorado River District’s government relations team is working to ensure West Slope water projects make the list for needed investment. During its April Quarterly meeting, the Colorado River District’s Board of Directors received an update on key infrastructure proposals making their way through the process in Washington, D.C. and in Denver.
River District Director of Government Relations Zane Kessler noted the Biden administration’s federal infrastructure proposal does not currently include many of the Western Water infrastructure priorities championed by our state’s congressional delegation and Western water advocates.
On March 19, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet (D) and John Hickenlooper (D) sent a letter to the Biden administration advocating for the inclusion of Western water priorities in the administration’s infrastructure proposal. In their letter, the senators maintained investments in Western water are essential to these states as they face the continued impacts of prolonged drought and a changing climate.
The letter included five recommendations to address Western water needs within a broader infrastructure package: fully funding aging water delivery and storage systems, increasing storage capacity in existing reservoirs, repairing dams, additional investments in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s water conservation and drought resiliency programs and prioritizing clean water for Tribal nations. The senators stated clearly “the Biden administration has a powerful opportunity to invest in Western water infrastructure. Similar to other infrastructure efforts, these investments can stimulate local economies and provide jobs.”
“It’s good to see our senators advocating for West Slope and statewide water priorities,” said Kessler. “This is still a moving target for sure, but we look forward to working with our delegation to try and shape this legislation the coming weeks.”
As currently drafted, the administration’s proposal includes the following water-related components:
- Investing $111 billion in drinking water,
- Investing $50 billion in infrastructure investments, including funding for wildfire and drought mitigation and support for agricultural resources management),
- Investing $16 billion for abandoned well and mine clean up,
- Expediting federal permitting of key infrastructure projects.
State Uses General Fund Revenues for Stimulus Plan of Their Own
Just as members of Congress in Washington, D.C. prepared to pass a large federal stimulus bill, a group of bipartisan state lawmakers joined Gov. Jared Polis to announce their own economic stimulus and recovery plan for Colorado. The Colorado stimulus proposal totals about $700 million in spending and is the result of higher-than-expected state revenues, which were not as negatively impacted by the pandemic as some lawmakers and budget analysts originally feared.
Kessler briefed the Board of Directors on specific components of the state stimulus effort, which will include significant investments in Colorado’s Water Plan and infrastructure priorities for the Western Slope.
According to legislative leaders and the governor’s office, the $700 million state stimulus package should be spent over 12 to 18 months, and each of the priorities in the plan will be funded via individual bills.
“We’re likely to see at least $20 million in new funding for the Water Plan,” said Kessler. “Agricultural infrastructure, drought assistance and watershed restoration programs should also receive additional funding as a part of this effort.”
Two stimulus bills the Colorado River District is actively supporting at the state capitol include House Bill 1260 and Senate Bill 240. House Bill 1260 allocated $20 million to fund the Colorado Water Plan, with $5 million specifically directed to the Water Supply Reserve Fund for grants and planning efforts administered by Colorado’s nine basin roundtables. Senate Bill 21-240 directs $15 million to the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Watershed Restoration Grant Program and for completion of a statewide watershed analysis to investigate the susceptibility of Colorado’s water supplies to wildfire impacts.
Congressional Delegation Snags Key Water, Infrastructure and Agriculture Committee Assignments
Colorado’s Western Slope will be well represented on key committees in both the U.S. House and Senate during the 117th Congress.
Sen. Michael Bennet announced this spring that he will chair the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources as well as the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy, Natural Resources and Infrastructure.
Sen. John Hickenlooper was appointed to the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Power, which has primary jurisdiction over Western water and power issues.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R), whose congressional district includes most of Colorado’s Western Slope, was appointed in January to the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife.