Tomorrow, the House will is expected to consider H.R. 2898, the Western Water and American Food Security Act of 2015.  The bill seeks to alleviate drought impacts in California and other Western states by streamlining the current regulatory system and updating CA and the west’s water infrastructure for the 21st century.  See below for the highlights of the west-wide water package and California water package contained in the bill.

West-Wide Water Package

·         Water Supply Permitting Act – This title sets up a “one-stop-shop” permitting office run by the Bureau of Reclamation to streamline processes that delay the construction of new or expanded surface water storage.

·         Bureau of Reclamation Project Streamlining Act – This title is based on the Water Resource and Development Act Reauthorization provisions signed into law last year.  Similarly, H.R. 2898 sets up a transparent process by which the Bureau of Reclamation forwards feasibility studies on water storage projects to Congress, which can then statutorily authorize and fund those specific projects.  The projects would include surface storage, water recycling, desalination and rural water supply projects.

·         Prepayment of Repayment Contracts – This title allows irrigators to pre-pay what they owe in capital repayments to the Bureau of Reclamation. Under current law, 2/3’s of irrigators are kept from paying off the federal government early even if they have the means and desire to do so.  This will generate mandatory spending savings, that combined with other provisions in the bill will fully offset the cost of the bill’s implementation and the new water storage it authorizes.

·         Safety of Dams Additional Project Benefits – This common-sense title would allow the Bureau of Reclamation to develop additional project benefits – such as increasing storage capacity – when studying and carrying out dam safety projects.

·         Water Rights Protections – This title would prevent federal agencies from requiring citizens to relinquish their water rights to the United States in order to use public lands.

California Water Package

·         California is facing severe drought conditions that threaten the future of agricultural industries and the nation’s food security.   

·         The current natural drought in CA is being exacerbated by man-made actions, including Endangered Species Act regulations on the delta smelt and salmon. 

·         H.R. 2898 requires more transparent science and the deployment of more effective management tools before the federal government resorts to the failed species recovery strategy of choking off water supplies to people.  

·         H.R. 2898 would also spur the completion of federal studies for new water storage in CA to augment the state’s water supplies.

·         See the attached one-pager for more information on the CA provisions of the bill.

For more background and a detailed summary of the bill, please click here to see the committee markup briefing paper prepared by the House Natural Resources Committee.  The committee staff contact for the legislation is kiel.weaver@mail.house.gov.