WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 17, 2015 – (RealEstateRama) — Congressman Kevin Cramer, with a majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, voted to pass H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015. H.R. 2898 attempts to alleviate water supply and agricultural issues in western states that have, in part, resulted from both the mismanagement of critical water resources and severe drought. The bill revises the regulatory framework that governs the movement and storage of water; encourages the development and more efficient use of private and public water storage and delivery systems; reforms the Federal rulemaking processes relating to water storage and delivery; and includes other provisions to alleviate water shortages facing Western states.
“California and the Western United States face drought conditions exasperated by failed government regulations and policies. This bill establishes clear rules based on science for the management of our water resources. In addition to increasing the water supply for drought stricken California, the bill improves water storage throughout the west, streamlines the permitting process for water projects on federal lands, and protects state water rights from federal overreach,” said Cramer.
Included in today’s bill are provisions from H.R. 2749, the Dams Accountability, Maintenance, and Safety Act, introduced by Congressman David Valadao (R-CA) and Congressman Cramer to allow the Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional project benefits – such as increasing storage capacity – when studying and carrying out dam safety projects.
Highlights of H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015
Emergency Drought Response—the bill provides Federal agencies operational flexibility during emergency drought situations to maximize Delta pumping levels while still satisfying the needs of protected species, as well as directs the Federal agencies to maximize the amount of water pumped south of the Delta during drought and for two subsequent normal water years. The bill also provides for an expedited permitting process for water transfers and the use of temporary barriers or operable gates to improve the quantity and quality of water available to certain water users.
Expanding Infrastructure and Storage—the bill creates a “one-stop-shop” permitting process to expedite construction of non-federal surface storage facilities. Specifically, it requires the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to coordinate with appropriate Federal and state permitting agencies to ensure efficient issuance of certain permits relating to water storage and delivery. The bill also requires certain agencies to expedite and complete consideration of ongoing feasibility studies for water storage projects. Additionally, the bill allows irrigation districts, water utilities, and other similar state or local agencies that have entered into water project contracts with the Federal government to pre-pay amounts owed to the Federal government, which is currently prohibited by law.
Water Rights Protection—the bill prevents Federal agencies from requiring certain entities to relinquish their water rights in order to use public lands. It also prohibits these agencies from requiring water users to apply for or acquire a water right in the name of the United States under state law as a condition or such a permit, and prohibits the Federal government from asserting jurisdiction over groundwater withdrawals or impacts on groundwater resources.
Safety of Dams—the bill allows the Bureau of Reclamation to study and construct, if found feasible and in compliance with the law, certain dam improvements that would be paid for by project beneficiaries in conjunction with dam safety repairs under the Safety of Dams Act. Under current law, the agency cannot consider various types of dam improvements, including dam raises, while studying or making safety repairs.
Monitoring and Management of the Delta Smelt—the bill attempts to ensure that any changes made to operational pumping levels of water resources are based on the most accurate survey methods and best available science. The bill also requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to modify the methodologies used when calculating incidental take limits (ITL), which are used to determine the viability of certain water projects, based on their impact to the protected fish, the Delta smelt.
Salmonid Management—the bill requires Federal agencies to ease water project pumping restrictions by identifying management actions other than reductions in pumping that can be utilized to better contribute to salmon recovery. The bill requires these agencies to evaluate and quantify the benefit to salmon species from reductions in pumping and to consider alternative conservation measures including barriers to fish entrainment, habitat enhancements and predation control programs.