The Moving Forward Act would address impacts of drought on Western rivers and coldwater fisheries
The future of the West is tied to its water.
Its rivers—the Colorado, the Columbia, the Platte, the Willamette, the Deschutes, the Klamath, and many others—are the lifeblood for the people, environment, and economies in their watersheds. They irrigate ranch and farmland and provide food across the country and the world. They provide drinking water to the growing urban areas throughout the region, and nurture fragile ecosystems and countless species of fish, birds, and other wildlife.
But diminished stream flows pose serious challenges for cities, farms, outdoor recreation businesses, and fish and wildlife. Reservoirs in the Colorado Basin, filled to the brim at the end of the 20th Century, are now at historic lows amid a 19-year drought. Other watersheds across the West face similar challenges.
Against that backdrop, we at Trout Unlimited are supporting The Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2), a long-awaited infrastructure bill that includes several important provisions addressing the water management challenges facing the West. We are also pushing for action on the Water for Conservation & Farming Act, legislation introduced by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that includes many of the same smart policies.
In addition to these Western water policy improvements, the Moving Forward Act would authorize more funding for Clean Water Act programs and stream restoration efforts, promote the cleanup of abandoned mines, and help protect fish and wildlife habitat on public lands.
This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make lasting policy gains on behalf of clean water, healthier streams, and rebounding trout and salmon populations.
Two measures in the Moving Forward Act are key to addressing the water crisis facing the West.
First, the FUTURE Drought Resiliency Act would provide a balanced approach to Western water infrastructure, water supply security, and ecological resiliency.
We appreciate that it would expand water recycling and reuse projects across the West, and that, in providing for much-needed additional water storage in the West, it would promote “green infrastructure” strategies – such as restoring natural watershed storage functions – alongside more traditional approaches.
The bill would also ensure that new desalination projects are carefully designed and executed; promote increased water conservation and upgrades to irrigation water-delivery infrastructure; and help minimize or prevent the environmental harms caused by new or expanded water infrastructure.
Second, the Moving Forward Act includes the Western Water Security Act (H.R. 4891/S.2718), authored by Rep. Torres Small.
This would reauthorize vital programs that address western drought, including the Cooperative Watershed Management program. With its focus on efficiency, conservation, and emergency drought funding, this provision would help the region adjust to shifts in water availability and the changing climate.
The Senate bill from Wyden and Merkley would expand the WaterSMART program to increase water supply reliability and authorize funds for water and conservation projects, among other provisions.
“Senator Wyden’s bill will make more win-win projects possible in Oregon that benefit our fisheries, support local jobs, and create more resilient watersheds,” said Chrysten Lambert, director of TU’s Oregon Water Project.
We won’t advance these important measures without your help.
Laura Ziemer is the Senior Counsel and Water Policy Advisor for Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Project. She is based in Bozeman, Montana.