Congressional infrastructure deal brings $8B in #climate, #water projects to the #West: Conservation groups say the bill is a climate and water budget bonanza for Colorado — The #Colorado Sun

Glenwood Canyon/Colorado River. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Colorado Sun (Michael Booth):

Colorado will benefit from billions of dollars in climate change and water projects in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure investment bill passed by the U.S. House late Friday, conservation groups said over the weekend, with some of the money shoring up drought-stretched obligations to the Colorado River Compact.

More than $8.3 billion in water projects alone earmarked for Western states will help pay for programs such as renting water from farmers to send down the Colorado River in extremely dry years, replanting and managing high country forests devastated by wildfires and recycling more water in cities, said Alexander Funk, director of water resources for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership…

Water for Colorado, a broader coalition that Funk speaks for, called the bill’s final approval “a rare opportunity for Colorado to have funding flowing while our rivers are not. Colorado needs to be ready to use as much of these once-in-a-generation federal funds as quickly as possible to address the state’s water resource funding gaps through implementation of the Colorado Water Plan.”

The coalition’s members include Trout Unlimited, Environmental Defense Fund, American Rivers and others.

Pew Charitable Trusts highlighted $1.4 billion of approved spending that will go to states, local governments and tribal governments for repairing and removing culverts, improving fish habitat, and removing barriers to fish spawning and survival, such as dams. The bill also includes $275 million in dedicated funding for the first time to fix roads and make other improvements at national parks and other public and tribal lands…

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2021 of the Colorado River big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data (PRISM) goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with
@GreatLakesPeck.

State and nonprofit leaders in Colorado say the boost of federal money is needed to help them find water for the beleaguered Colorado River through diversions from agriculture and conservation in Front Range cities. The Colorado River’s runoff into Lake Powell has dropped about 20% in the past 20 years amid a long-term drought and longer-term climate change.

The drop in available Colorado River water, which supplies 40 million people in seven states, has already forced cutbacks to the amount of water being sent to Arizona in 2022…

Colorado leaders do not want to be forced into sudden, uncontrolled cuts in a compact “call.” They are experimenting with “demand management,” paying farmers for water in some years without drying up their water rights permanently, and putting that water in a “bank” in Lake Powell to satisfy the compact. Large-scale water renting or purchasing will take at least hundreds of millions of dollars.

Other projects that would need federal aid include transforming agricultural watering to be far more conserving, alternate crops, payments for carbon sequestration in ground cover, and restoring high country wetlands that slow wildfires and harbor lush wildlife.

Great Blue Heron at the Pagosa Springs wetlands. Photo: Barry Knott

“I would say the upland forest wetland ecosystems are huge winners in terms of this infrastructure package,” Funk said.

Front Range cities and water districts who feel they have a case to make for water conservation will also seek shares of the new pot of money to complete their projects. Agencies looking for federal assistance include a group of providers in northern El Paso County, who want to build a $134 million pipeline to complete a loop recycling diminishing aquifer water.

Other funded infrastructure projects highlighted by the water conservation coalitions include:

  • $280 million for sewer overflow and stormwater reuse municipal grants
  • $500 million in community wildfire defense grants from the U.S. Forest Service, and $200 million in post-fire restoration activities from the forest service and the Bureau of Land Management
  • $300 million for river drought contingency planning, with $50 million specifically for Upper Basin states like Colorado
  • The conservation groups are hoping Congress will double-down on climate and drought spending by following up in coming weeks to pass the other part of Biden’s recovery package, the multi-trillion, oft-changed budget reconciliation bill dubbed Build Back Better.

    A nursery manager plants a whitebark pine at Glacier National Park in Montana in September 2019, part of an effort to restore vegetation following a wildfire. Photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Pew Research

    From The Pacific Institute (Peter Gleick, Amanda Bielawski, and Heather Cooley):

    On November 5, 2021, the U.S. Congress passed President Biden’s major infrastructure bill, HR 3684, the $1.2 trillion ‘‘Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.” The President is expected to sign the bill into law. The bill is the largest single federal investment in infrastructure in a generation, with the funds to be expended over five years. It aims to rebuild and replace failing, aging, and outdated water, energy, transportation, and communications systems. As the first significant federal investment in climate resilience, it also begins to address the growing consequences of climate change, including intensifying extreme weather events, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels, on communities throughout the United States.

    One key component of the Act is the set of proposals to address the wide range of water-related challenges facing the United States. This Pacific Institute analysis provides an overview of how the Infrastructure Act addresses these challenges. The Pacific Institute will also issue a more detailed Issue Brief.

    Highlights

  • The Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. The largest water-related investments are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation.
  • The new Infrastructure Act provides a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more sustainable and resilient approach.
  • The new legislation helps correct some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately impacted by water insecurity.
  • The water system investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone—–to prepare water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change.
  • Context

    The United States faces several severe and worsening water problems, including:

  • old and deteriorating water infrastructure for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment;
  • new contaminants that are neither regulated nor controlled;
  • failure to provide modern water services to millions of people;
  • growing impacts from severe droughts and floods, intensifying as a result of climate change;
  • water shortages for farms and rural communities;
  • destruction of aquatic ecosystems, fisheries, and wetlands; and
  • increasing risks of both climate change and conflicts over water resources around the world.
  • Continuing to neglect these water problems will further impoverish and sicken this and future generations, while increasing threats to our economy and food supply. Conversely, smart water policies are projected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, improve public health, address long-standing disproportionate impacts on frontline communities, and speed economic recovery.

    In September 2020, the Pacific Institute released a set of water-related recommendations for the new administration. Some of the most important of these recommendations are:

  • delivering clean, affordable drinking water to everyone in the United States, with a focus on removing remaining lead water pipes and service lines;
  • modernizing and updating existing federal laws that protect drinking water and regulate water pollutants;
  • preparing for the increasingly detrimental consequences of extreme weather and climate disasters;
  • protecting and restoring natural aquatic ecosystems; and
  • improving access to safe water and sanitation in frontline communities, including on Tribal lands.
  • The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

    The new Infrastructure Act addresses many of the priorities laid out in the Pacific Institute’s recommendations. It provides the most comprehensive opportunity to help tackle America’s water problems this century. Of the $1.2 trillion authorized to be spent over five years, the Act dedicates approximately $82.5 billion for a wide range of critical water investments. Table 1 provides only a broad overview of the major water-related priorities in the bill. More details will be available in a new Pacific Institute Issue Brief.

    The largest water-related investments in the Act are for improvements in safe drinking water and sanitation throughout the country, including around $24 billion in grants over five years directly to the states under the existing Federal Water Pollution Control Act and Safe Drinking Water Acts. An additional $15 billion is provided for projects to replace lead water pipes and service lines, like those responsible for the severe contamination incident in Flint, Michigan, and remaining lead pipes in other cities around the country. Another $9 billion is allocated for addressing a set of new, dangerous, and unregulated pollutants, including perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl and other “emerging contaminants,” long neglected by current federal law.

    Federal infrastructure investments have historically supported the construction of major water-related infrastructure projects, such as dams, aqueducts, irrigation systems, and river and port transportation systems. The current bill is no exception. A major difference, however, is that the new investments refocus funds to modern, 21st century priorities that increasingly involve a longer-term water resilience view. For instance, the bill includes investments in some nature-based solutions, including ecosystem restoration, as well as water efficiency, water reuse, flood and drought programs, dam safety, and rural communities. In this way, we see a shift away from the 20th century primary focus on building major dams and water diversions toward a more comprehensive and integrated approach. Read more about the Pacific Institute’s view on water resilience in this blog and Issue Brief.

    In the current bill, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the agencies traditionally charged with managing the nation’s federal waters, are authorized to spend approximately $25 billion over five years for a wide range of these new investments. Another $2 billion is set aside for specific regional water protection programs in the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico, South Florida, Lake Champlain, Lake Pontchartrain, Southern New England Estuaries, and the Columbia River Basin.

    Water science also receives support in the bill. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture are authorized to spend around $3.9 billion for new hydrologic science and modeling programs to help predict, detect, and prevent extreme events and wildfires that destroy watershed health and water quality, and for a range of ocean programs.

    Importantly, the new legislation corrects some of the historical inequities previous infrastructure bills and federal water policies have perpetuated on frontline communities, who are disproportionately affected by water insecurity. For example, Section 50108 of the bill requires the EPA Administrator to submit to Congress a comprehensive report on municipalities, communities, and Tribes that must spend a disproportionate amount of household income on access to public drinking water or wastewater services or that have unsustainable levels of water-related debt. Importantly, the report must also include the Administrator’s recommendations for how best to reduce these inequities and improve affordable access to water services. The EPA must also provide grants to states and Tribes to help schools test for and remediate lead in drinking water (Section 50110), and grants to improve water quality, water pressure, or water services on Native American reservations by prioritizing projects addressing emergency situations occurring due to or resulting in a lack of access to clean drinking water that threatens the health of Tribal populations (Section 50111).

    Other Water Infrastructure Investment Highlights

    Support is also provided to expand the careful management of stormwater and the sophisticated treatment and reuse of wastewater, two priorities identified by the Pacific Institute for addressing water challenges across the United States:

  • Section 50202 (“Wastewater Efficiency Grant Pilot Program”) provides funds for the EPA to establish a wastewater efficiency grant pilot program to carry out projects that create or improve waste-to-energy systems.
  • Section 50203 (“Pilot Program for Alternative Water Source Projects”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support projects that use water, wastewater, or stormwater or treat wastewater or stormwater for groundwater recharge, potable reuse, or other purposes.
  • Section 50204 (“Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grants”) amends the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to support project funding for projects in rural communities or financially distressed communities for the purpose of planning, design, and construction of treatment works for stormwater and other polluted waters.
  • A new federal Interagency Working Group will be established to coordinate actions to advance water reuse across the United States (Section 50218).
    Many other sections of the Infrastructure Act tackle water issues and will be summarized more fully in the forthcoming Pacific Institute Issue Brief, including projects to:

  • reduce the vulnerability of US water systems to cyberattacks, improve water-efficiency programs, and expand job training, diversity, and opportunities in the water and wastewater sectors (Section 50211);
  • improve water data sharing (Section 50213);
  • expand groundwater recharge and protection (Section 50222); and
  • satisfy long-neglected water rights obligations to Native American tribes (Section 70101).
  • Finally, there are additional investments provided in the Bill for non-water projects that provide water co-benefits. A few examples include:

  • Section 40804 (“Ecosystem Restoration”) provides $2.1 billion over five years for a wide range of projects to improve the ecological health of land and waters, including detecting and removing invasive species, restoring streambeds, improving water quality and fish passages.
  • Funds allocated to the states for transportation projects also provide some support for flood protection and aquatic ecosystem restoration, and the assessment of transportation and coastal risks from extreme floods, droughts, and sea-level rise (Section 11405).
  • A “Healthy Streets Program” includes support for “cool” and “porous” pavement that will mitigate some of the impacts of rising urban temperatures and reduce stormwater risks (Section 11406).
  • A National Academy of Sciences study will be prepared on best management practices for stormwater, especially to reduce runoff pollution associated with severe storms (Section 11520).
  • Support is provided for improved coordination between the United States and Canada along the Columbia River to ensure continued non-carbon electricity generation from hydroelectric plants, to “increase bilateral transfers of renewable electric generation between the western United States and Canada,” and to rehabilitate and enhance hydropower and irrigation functions at Columbia River dams (Section 40113).
  • The Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy will prepare technical assessments of the opportunities for, among other things, “improving efficient use of water in manufacturing processes” (Section 40333).
  • The “Natural Resources-Related Infrastructure, Wildfire Management, and Ecosystem Restoration” section (Section 40801 et al.), provides $250 million over five years to decommission and clean up old Forest Service roads to restore passages for fish and other aquatic species, taking account foreseeable changes in weather and hydrology and to support other projects in the National Forests that improve the resilience of roads, trails, and bridges to “extreme weather events, flooding, or other natural disasters.”
  • Conclusion

    As with all federal legislation, the final bill was a compromise, shifting priorities based on political and financial considerations. Many important investments in initial versions of the bill were watered down. For example, earlier drafts included far more money to help remove legacy lead drinking water pipes. While the $15 billion provided in the final bill is a start, far more funds will have to be found to complete that vitally important job.

    It’s important to point out that the ultimate success of these investments to address U.S. water problems will depend on how the authorized funds are actually allocated and spent. Success will also depend on the ability of federal agencies, states, local communities, and Tribes to create and mobilize jobs, find additional investments, and implement needed projects.

    The water investments provided by this new Act are important steps in the right direction. They are not, however, enough—alone——to prepare U.S. water systems to become fully resilient, as they need to be to withstand the stresses and shocks of climate change. This will require an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure people and nature have the water they need to thrive and all communities are protected from intensifying water-related disasters.

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