Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today applauded the inclusion of $4 billion for drought relief in the Inflation Reduction Act. The senator’s office worked closely with the offices of several Western senators to draft language that will help drought-stricken communities in the Colorado River Basin.
This funding will help preserve water deliveries from the Colorado River, which supplies water for 700,000 acres of farmland and more than 19 million residents in the region. To maintain this water resource in the face of climate change, the state must proactively reduce water usage to keep Lake Mead above critical elevations.
In order to achieve the goal of reducing Colorado River withdrawals, the bill provides temporary financial assistance to farmers who voluntarily fallow their lands as they adjust to reduced levels of river flow. It also funds water conservation and efficiency projects to keep more water in the river.
These efforts will help California reach an agreement with all seven Colorado River states on reducing water use while preserving long-term access to Colorado River water supplies. This will help all water users as they adjust to drier conditions within the Colorado River Basin by transitioning to more sustainable water uses like water recycling; stormwater capture and reuse; desalination; more efficient use of water by farmers; infrastructure improvements; and increased water conservation and urban water efficiency.
“As climate change continues to stress our water resources, we must do more to ensure we have enough water to meet our state’s needs,” Senator Feinstein said. “The inclusion of $4 billion in the reconciliation bill to address the historic drought in the West is critical for communities throughout the region, particularly in California.
Senator Feinstein continued: “This language, which my staff negotiated with Senators Kelly, Sinema and others, will help ensure that critical water deliveries from the Colorado River continue as the state expands sustainable water practices like water recycling and conservation. The bill will also fund water infrastructure modernization projects as well as projects to reduce harmful effects of drought on rivers and inland water bodies like the Salton Sea. This is just one step to help fight this dangerous drought, but it’s an important one.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom said: “This funding is critical to stabilize the Colorado River system and accelerate projects at the Salton Sea to protect public health and the environment. Thanks to our California senators for working with us on this priority and helping to lead the charge on this essential investment.”
The drought portion of the reconciliation bill includes three key components:
1. Compensate water users, including those in the agriculture sector, for voluntary reductions they make in water deliveries.
This provision will be particularly beneficial to agricultural water users within the Colorado River basin (as well as potentially to others in areas such as the Sacramento Valley, San Joaquin Valley and the Klamath) who are suffering from long-term drought and can reduce water use in ways that have conservation, environmental and other broader public benefits.
California currently receives 4.4 million-acre feet of water each year from the Colorado River. If water levels in Lake Mead fall below critical levels, significant reductions to the state’s allocation will have to occur. By compensating water users, including farmers, for reducing their water usage, this bill will help maintain the level of Lake Mead, ensuring needed Colorado River deliveries continue.
In the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere in the West, this provision could benefit farmers or groups of farmers who volunteer to fallow a portion of their land for multiple years as part of a comprehensive plan for restoring blocks or corridors of wildlife habitat or providing other environmental benefits. The compensation might assist California farmers in planning for drought or compliance with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. This potential application of the provision would complement a similar California program in the San Joaquin Valley.
2. Fund conservation projects to increase water levels in the Colorado River system.
This bill includes investments in urban and agricultural water use efficiency projects. Urban projects include substitutes for turf and lawn replacement and installation of drought-resilient landscaping. Agricultural projects include water-saving measures like canal lining and leveling of drainage ditches.
3. Mitigate the harmful effects of drought by funding environmental restoration projects.
These restoration projects will focus on river systems and inland water bodies suffering from the effects of drought.
One example is Southern California’s Salton Sea. Funding restoration projects will help remediate effects of wind-blown dust. This effort is critical to help lower asthma rates that are in places twice that of the national average. Another potential example is habitat projects that would benefit winter-run chinook salmon, an endangered species that has been severely imperiled by recent droughts.