Following up on a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on legislation to mitigate drought in the West and Alaska, the Western Governors’ Association has sent a letter offering policy solutions to committee members.
They emphasized that western states are “impacted by water shortages because of extended drought conditions and insufficient infrastructure to assure adequate water supplies.”
“The biggest challenge is how to affordably and effectively create flexibility in our water system,” said Laura Chartrand, WGA policy adviser for western water issues.
The letter was sent to the Senate committee members to encourage them to review some tools western states have identified that can help build resiliency and flexibility in the structure, she said.
Water management is different in the West than it is in the East, and policy to mitigate drought would benefit from the expertise and viewpoint of the 19 western states, she said.
The Western Governors Drought Forum was launched last year by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to enable states to share best practices in water resource management focused on improving drought preparedness and response.
The solutions shared with the Senate committee reflect information from the forum, said Joe Rassenfoss, WGA communications director.
The solutions are aimed at promoting greater investment in water infrastructure and providing incentives for innovative water management policies among states that preserve states’ primacy in water management.
They also focus on strengthening federal efforts to maintain adequate collection of drought and water data and coordinating information programs across multiple agencies, enhancing data networks and facilitating better use of existing information.
Among other things, the governors propose the creation of a federal loan program that will make it possible for states and other public and private entities to secure financing on reasonable terms to complete important water-resources management projects.
The governors also encourage Congress to authorize federal agencies to provide resources and technical support to help states implement state plans designed to provide water for municipal, rural, agricultural, industrial, and habitat needs.
Because states want to retain primacy in water management, much of the “ask” in discussions with Congress comes under funding. But the overarching theme is creating flexibility, whether that’s for shoring up aging infrastructure or creating new infrastructure, Chartrand said.
WGA calls for:
• Adequate support for the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act State Revolving Funds.
• Full utilization of receipts accruing to the Reclamation Fund including construction of Bureau of Reclamations rural water projects.
• Regularly scheduled reauthorization of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act and appropriate funding so all projects and studies can be completed in a timely manner.
• Greater investment in water infrastructure through tools such as loan guarantees, revolving funds, infrastructure banks, and water trust funds.
• Funding priorities based on long-term sustainability accompanied by dedicated source of funding with appropriate financing, cost sharing, pricing, and cost-recovery policies.
The governors’ policy also encourages alternatives to direct federal investment such as public-private partnerships, bond issuance, risk pooling, and credit enhancements. It also calls for the removal of state volume caps for private activity bonds used for water and wastewater projects, guaranteed tax-exempt status for bonds issued by state or local agencies and loan guarantees.
In addition, policy is needed to coordinate, streamline and provide flexibility to infrastructure planning and permitting guidelines, rules and regulations and to authorize and implement appropriate hydropower projects and programs.