Congress Approves Increased Spending on Water and Other Projects — @Audubon

From the National Audubon Society:

The “minibus” appropriations bill is the result of a bipartisan, bicameral deal struck on [September 10, 2018] in a conference committee and is the first spending package to pass ahead of the end of the current fiscal year on September 30. “We are absolutely grateful to every member of Congress who supported this important funding bill,” said Julie Hill-Gabriel, Vice President of Water Conservation at the National Audubon Society. “Audubon and its more than one million members know that healthy water systems are vital to birds and to people. This legislation will help us build on the progress we’ve made in strengthening our water infrastructure.”

The bill advances programs that are important for birds and the places they need, including:

An extension of the System Conservation Pilot Program until the year 2022. As a key tool to address the prolonged drought in the West, this win-win program has provided anyone with Colorado River water rights the opportunity to receive a cash payment in exchange for conserved water that stays in rivers and reservoirs. Additional funding for the Bureau of Reclamation could also be used to increase the number of projects in this program that will reduce the threat of water shortages for the 36 million Americans who rely on Colorado River water.

With participation from ranchers, farmers, golf course owners and water system managers in seven states (WY, UT, CO, NM, AZ, CA, NV), this program allows for more water remaining in the seasonal habitats that birds like the Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Willow Flycatcher need to feed, rest and nest.

Increased funding for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART Program, and other funding to address drought conditions in the West. WaterSMART invests in innovative, collaborative, and locally-led projects that conserve water across the West, and helps address the long-standing backlog of western water infrastructure needs. This means that organizations like state and local Audubon groups can continue to partner on projects such as lining canal walls, restoring native vegetation or clearing blocked streams, all of which contribute to the quantity and quality of water that people, birds and other wildlife depend on in an increasingly hot and dry West.

Funding for endangered species recovery and water quality control programs at the Bureau of Reclamation and Fish and Wildlife Service. These programs are critical for the recovery of endangered native fish species like the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and razorback sucker, and for ensuring compliance with the Endangered Species Act for more than 2,500 water projects in the Colorado River Basin, including every Bureau of Reclamation project upstream of Lake Powell. This program helps ensure species that are lynchpins of local ecosystems and food chains are considered when water infrastructure projects are planned.

Important funding for construction of Everglades restoration projects through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These projects will protect and restore wetlands in America’s Everglades, a unique ecosystem that is home to 70 threatened and endangered species and more than 300 native bird species like the Roseate Spoonbill. Completed restoration projects provide new options for managing water that can respond to toxic algae blooms in addition to intermittent flooding and drought. Audubon hopes to see the Army Corp direct some of its discretionary funds from this legislation towards Everglades restoration above and beyond the levels identified in this bill, including needed funding for Operations, Maintenance and Rehabilitation of Everglades projects.

A directive for the Department of Energy to pursue a “moonshot” goal for demonstrating energy storage technologies, critical funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and robust support for research and development supported by programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). Each of these programs will help pave the way for important advances in storing and distributing electricity generated by renewable sources like wind and solar. Renewable energy, properly sited and managed for bird safety, is key to mitigating a changing climate, which is the greatest danger that birds face.

Importantly, the bill does not include harmful environmental riders from earlier versions of the legislation.

One excluded provision would have repealed the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Rule. Repealing the Rule would reduce protections for wetlands and the one-third of North American bird species – including the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, American Bittern and Prothonotary Warbler – that rely on wetlands for food, shelter, or breeding.

The bill also does not include a rider that would have banned spending funds to develop or issue regulations based on studies of the social cost of carbon. Climate change is the top threat that birds face, as it is both shrinking and shifting their ranges. Audubon supports research and policy that will reduce greenhouse gases such as carbon that are warming the planet.

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