Entering the 2024 election year, the Colorado River District continues to engage with our federal elected officials and relevant agencies on a regular basis. Much of the District’s work on federal issues at the end of 2023 centered on continued engagement with Colorado’s Congressional delegation on Farm Bill priorities, discussion of water legislation with congressional staff, and Biden Administration outreach at USDA and the Bureau of Reclamation.
Farm Bill Expiration and Temporary Extension
Lawmakers in D.C. continue to navigate drafting and the politics of the next five-year Farm Bill. One current area of Farm Bill debate for legislators revolves around how to fund anticipated increases in “reference” prices for farm commodities, impacting government support to farmers during market price declines. Zane Kessler, Director of Government Relations informed the Colorado River District’s Board of Directors that balancing this adjustment could potentially impact conservation efforts if funding is redirected from programs like the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) climate-smart conservation initiatives, which is being eyed by some as a funding source for boosting the next Farm Bill.
House NR Committee Approves Reclamation Drought Legislation
Kessler reported that in late 2023, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee passed by voice vote a bipartisan drought relief bill, H.R. 4385, sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO). The legislation would reauthorize the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act through 2028, giving Reclamation power to assist communities in dealing with pervasive drought. The Natural Resources Committee Water Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee also held a hearing to consider four bills relating to water data and infrastructure: the Water Data Improvement Act (H.R. 5770); the Southwestern Power Administration Fund Establishment Act (H.R. 4219); the Urban Canal Modernization Act (H.R. 6107); and the Modernizing Access to Our Public (MAP) Waters Act (H.R. 6127).
Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation Funding Updates
Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), Reclamation is investing a total of $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects. This includes rural water, water storage, conservation and conveyance, nature-based solutions, dam safety, water purification and reuse. Over the first two years of its implementation, Reclamation has obligated 372 projects to receive almost $2.8 billion. The IRA is investing an additional $4 billion, most of that in the Colorado River Basin states, to address historic drought conditions.