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COLUMN: Path Forward Needed for Water Infrastructure

February 19, 2018
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Last week, the Trump administration released its proposal to modernize our nation’s infrastructure, a blueprint that gives hope for federal support and a positive path forward on projects across the country that are stalled due to bureaucratic red tape. America must address its aging infrastructure and streamline the process for projects that are needed to meet growing demand for water, especially in the West.

President Trump’s infrastructure blueprint included a U.S. Department of Interior proposal to expedite the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) title transfer process from the federal government to empower local water providers. After the proposal was released, the House Natural Resources Committee held an oversight hearing on the current state of the nation’s water infrastructure and the need for reform. Charles Freeman, the District Manager of Kennewick Irrigation District (KID) in Central Washington was able to testify on the title transfer process that would bring KID under local control. Freeman explained that allowing local control would increase responsiveness to the challenges faced by local water providers.

I participated in the hearing and agreed with Freeman’s testimony because the West truly needs a better approach from the federal government to address our water infrastructure, particularly for BOR. In Central Washington, we have two examples of BOR projects that have been slowed due to bureaucratic inaction. Both have been authorized for decades but continue in a holding pattern imposed by federal agencies. The Columbia Basin Project was authorized 70 years ago, and the Yakima Basin Project was authorized 30 years ago. These projects should be able to move forward, which is why I have been and continue to be an advocate for streamlining the BOR water project development process.

In 2014, the “Water Resources Reform and Development Act” (WRRDA) was signed into law and successfully cut red tape for water projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, such as inland waterways, ports, and flood control. WRRDA was a bipartisan effort that set deadlines and improved coordination so that Army Corps projects would not languish under endless reviews and studies. Streamlining the Army Corps water development process garnered support from Democrats and Republicans, yet some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle continue to argue that BOR projects do not deserve the same reforms.

I will continue to push to convince my colleagues that what is good for the Army Corps goose is good for the BOR gander. This Congress, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and I introduced the “Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Indian Affairs Water Project Streamlining Act," to apply the same Army Corps improvements to BOR’s and Bureau of Indian Affairs’ environmental planning and study process for new water projects as well as to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan. Our legislation would facilitate the construction of new or expanded surface water, storage, infrastructure, and recycling projects.

From supporting the proposal to increase local control of water providers to building support for legislation that makes the water infrastructure process more efficient, I continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and the Trump administration to improve our water infrastructure. Cutting red tape is a priority, and I continue to make the case that the broken federal bureaucracy must be reformed to allow desperately-needed progress on provision of stable supplies of water.