The Western drought was the topic of another Congressional hearing yesterday on Capitol Hill. The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources held its first hearing since 2013, titled “The Western Water Crisis: Confronting persistent drought and building resilience on our forests and farmland.”
The Family Farm Alliance developed extensive written testimony in advance of this history, which Subcommittee Chairman Michael Bennet (D-COLORADO) asked to be included in the hearing record in his opening remarks yesterday.
“This hearing has never been more important as climate change fuels persistent and severe drought across Colorado – driving increasingly catastrophic wildfires and causing unprecedented water shortages for our farmers and ranchers,” said Senator Bennet.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Roger Marshall (R-KANSAS) expressed his excitement to partner with Senator Bennet to address the water crisis facing Western farmers and ranchers.
“As drought and wildfires persist, we must come together to create common sense solutions with input from scientists, community members, farmers, and ranchers who intimately understand the challenges at hand,” said Senator Marshall.
Andy Mueller, General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District (Glenwood Springs, CO) was the first witness who testified at the hearing. Mr. Mueller also serves on the Advisory Committee of the Family Farm Alliance.
“Agriculture in the Colorado River Basin is important to our local, regional and national food supply, and is essential to this nation’s food security,” said Mr. Mueller in his written testimony. “We must devise, implement and fund programs aimed at keeping productive agriculture viable while reducing the overall consumptive use of water.”
Another witness at the hearing, Dr. Ellen Herbert, a senior scientist with Duck Unlimited, discussed the drought in California, where nearly 250,000 acres are expected to go fallow this growing season, cutting Central Valley rice acres in half. Outside of the obvious devastation this will cause for producers, this drop in planted rice acres and subsequent lack of flooding fields post-harvest will greatly reduce the habitat options for migratory birds that have come to rely on water made available through these practices.
“These flooded rice fields provide nearly 50% of the food resources for waterfowl,” she said in her testimony. “As the saying goes, what’s good for rice is good for ducks, and in this instance what’s bad for rice is certainly going to be bad news for ducks as well.”
Water users served by Western federal water projects – including, but not limited to California’s Central Valley Project, the Klamath Project, and Oregon’s Deschutes River Basin – are facing “regulatory droughts”, as well, driven in part by “flow-centric” management that is allocating large amounts of water for environmental purposes.
“We need a new way of looking at how we manage environmental demands for our limited water resources,” the Alliance stated in its testimony.
Click here for additional hearing coverage provided by Bloomberg Government: Five Alarm Drought Sparks Lawmaker Push for Water Conservation . The Washington Post also interviewed Senator Bennet prior to the hearing in this Climate 202 article.