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Thu, Sept. 23

Column | Wanted! Water infrastructure funding

Unprecedented drought conditions are spreading across Arizona and the Western U.S. Nearly 95% of land in Arizona is in severe, extreme or exceptional drought, and more than 90% of the West is covered by some category of drought.

These are the worst levels in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s 21-year history.

Perhaps the only silver lining in this disaster is that it will hopefully draw public and political attention to the need to take immediate action to help better manage impacts to water resources from drought in the West.

It’s always a challenge getting lawmakers to talk about water when infrastructure is teed up in Washington. When water infrastructure makes it to the front burner, policy makers are usually talking about drinking water, especially since the Flint, Michigan water crisis.

In recent weeks, you’ve likely seen a number of press releases, opinion editorials and various social media posts lately supporting infrastructure funding in Washington, D.C. Hopefully, you’ve also noticed increased attention being paid towards critical “Western water” infrastructure financing being requested in the 117th Congress.

There’s a grassroots Western initiative that is drawing increased attention to this critical issue, and Arizona water advocates are a driving force behind this effort.

The Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona, the National Water Resources Association and the Family Farm Alliance were organized years ago to represent the interests of Western water users, namely, irrigated agriculture, municipal water interests, and farmers and ranchers. Our three organizations work closely together and regularly on pressing federal water and natural resource legislative priorities.

In this critically dry year, building political support for Western water infrastructure is the top priority.

Securing Congressional funding is essential to address existing aging-infrastructure needs. Modernizing and building new infrastructure will help water users and managers stretch water supplies further. This investment will allow a 21st century modernized system to more efficiently use, store and deliver life-sustaining water to help feed and clothe the U.S. and the world.

Our organizations meet weekly and monthly to develop and coordinate communications with Congress and the White House to educate policy makers about what’s happening “on the ground” in the West. We seek to assist elected officials and agency personnel to truly understand what is needed to help Western water users meet the needs of water consumers.

Our goal this year has been to get “our type of infrastructure” – “Western” water infrastructure needs like repairing aging water facilities and building new storage and conveyance facilities – included in the mix as infrastructure negotiations continue in this Congress. Much of this advocacy work was supported by state-driven media and public outreach efforts.

It is going to be a tough year for many of our water users and the communities they support.

We’ll continue our efforts to ensure their voices are heard and that farmers, ranchers and water purveyors keep playing a vital role in supporting the basic needs of their communities.

(Ian Lyle is executive vice president of the National Water Resources Association and Dan Keppen is executive director of the Family Farm Alliance.)

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