Last week, the Western Agricultural Coalition sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlin Touton warning them of the potential for rural economic upheaval without effective deployment of drought response funding. The coalition, which consists of seven agricultural organizations, offered assistance in effectively implementing the $4 billion set aside by the Inflation Reduction Act.
In their letter, the group offers support, assistance, and counsel for the immediate implementation of drought funding from the Inflation Reduction Act. Irrigation remains a necessary contributor to the production of domestic food sources, and the removal of senior water rights will result in financial losses for individual family farms and rural communities. Simultaneously, labor, crop protection, and food safety standards will be put at risk while exacerbating climate change and food insecurity.
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According to the coalition, “Dire challenges are being faced by agricultural water users in the Colorado River Basin, California’s Central Valley, the Klamath Basin, the Columbia River Basin and its tributaries in Idaho, Oregon and Washington, the Rogue River Basin in southern Oregon, and the Great Basin. We could dedicate reams of pages describing the agonizing plight faced by the farmers and ranchers and the rural communities in these areas.”
The coalition asks that the following principles be followed:
- The Bureau of Reclamation should quickly release a Notice of Funding Availability with guidance to water managers currently developing drought response proposals and urgently deploy that funding to address the most critical needs.
- As the Bureau of Reclamation develops a plan to deploy drought funding, they should work with local water managers, set goals focused on driving the voluntary participation needed, and keep the process, selection criteria, and any necessary agreements simple and transparent.
- Any program designed to temporarily reduce agricultural water use must recognize the value of lost production, the extended impact on the rural community, and the cost of developing incremental new water supplies. It is also important to avoid any actions that result in permanent disruptions to our long-term capacity to produce the food and fiber that is relied upon in the U.S. and across the globe.
- Agriculture should not be the only sector expected to reduce water use for the benefit of river systems. Urban planners and water users must also seriously address growth and reduce overall use or diversions to protect these systems.
The coalition says that adhering to these recommendations will ensure that agricultural water users can be meaningful partners in collective efforts to manage waters and protect supply systems. Agricultural users are already making changes to provide solutions at their own expense.
The next step plans recommended by the group are also listed in the letter:
- Forest restoration activities to improve the health and productivity of watersheds
- Conservation and efficiency measures
- Augmentation of supply to include groundwater development, recycling, conveyance, and storage
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