COLUMN: Strengthening Our Water Supply Infrastructure

October 14, 2019
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

As a farmer, former state Director of Agriculture, and now a Congressman representing one of the most flourishing agricultural regions in America, I fully understand how important it is that we reinvest in the water infrastructure our farms and communities were built upon – much of which is over a century old at this point. I have made it a priority to address these important issues for Central Washington and for rural communities across the West.

Last week, I was joined by local farmers, irrigators, and elected officials at Willard Farms in Prosser to announce the introduction of legislation to help local water managers access the funds they need to repair and rebuild aging Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) facilities and ensure our existing surface storage facilities are operating as efficiently as possible.

My bill, the Water Supply Infrastructure Revitalization and Utilization Act, aims to meet the needs of our agricultural economy and local communities by addressing the BOR’s maintenance backlog at water supply infrastructure projects. Far too much of BOR’s infrastructure, which includes dams, hydropower plants, canals, and irrigation conveyances, is in serious need of maintenance and repair.  My legislation creates a clearly-defined application and review process, so local water operators can initiate maintenance projects with extended repayment to a revolving Aging Infrastructure Account. Local users need the flexibility to access these resources, and this bill will help them do just that.

When President Trump signed my bill into law to authorize the next phase of the Yakima Project, we celebrated clearing one of the most significant hurdles for water needs in Central Washington. But as many of us know, authorization is only the first key step. Next comes – what some would say is – the more difficult part: securing the resources and funding to implement the authorized projects. I have been working on the Yakima Project for much of my career, and this new bill will create an easier, more streamlined process to access funds for this desperately-needed infrastructure in Central Washington.

The legislation also strengthens the “Safety of Dams” program to improve structural integrity of dams across the country by increasing the program’s authorization cap in order to meet BOR’s project funding needs for their future workload. In our region, we are no stranger to the benefits dams provide for irrigation districts and the agricultural industry. Washington’s 4th District truly is at the epicenter of need for ensuring the stability of BOR dams of all sizes, but like much of our nation’s infrastructure, our dams are aging and require regular maintenance and upkeep. The “Safety of Dams” program is important for ensuring all BOR dams continue to operate safely and efficiently – from the Grand Coulee Dam down to the Sunnyside, Prosser, and Roza Diversion dams.

Finally, the bill creates a pilot program to give more flexibility to reservoir operators. Communities across the West know the impacts of droughts all too well, and this legislation allows local operators to temporarily store water in dedicated flood control space during certain low-risk times of the year.

By addressing the maintenance backlog at our water supply projects, strengthening the structural integrity of our water infrastructure, and providing flexibility for water storage to best equip our communities in times of drought, we can secure the resources required to meet the current and future water needs for Central Washington and across the West. I believe the Water Supply Infrastructure Revitalization and Utilization Act is step forward in doing so, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to send it to the President’s desk.