Jan 19, 2017 | Alliance Op/Ed

Make Western irrigated ag a Trump priority

Commentary: New administration has a lot on its plate, but getting this message out is important.

The Trump administration will need to address the issues of Western water resources development and the implementation of federal environmental laws and regulations. Unfortunately, it’s hard to shine the light on these issues when energy, Obamacare and tax reform are all center stage in Washington.

It’s time to make Western irrigated agriculture one of the priorities for the incoming Trump administration.

While more, better and safer food is being produced by our American farmers, these same farmers continue to feel the pinch — and it is only a matter of time before that pinch translates itself back into the supermarket. For farmers to survive, and for food to continue to be produced here in America, a stable water supply must be available.

For the past eight years, we’ve experienced numerous examples of where the Obama administration favored fish and wildlife management over food production in the West. We have witnessed escalated engagement by certain activist groups, who cynically use fish and wildlife management to attempt to eliminate sectors of production agriculture. It has happened in places like the Klamath Basin, where water originally developed for agriculture is being redirected to meet the “perceived” (i.e., unsubstantiated) needs of several species of fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.

There are ways that the federal government can help support Western irrigated agriculture. The federal government really has a role and a duty to reach out to these producers: to educate and work with them on a policy level, work in partnership with them using federal cost-share opportunities, and support their efforts to secure a stable water supply for their farms and ranches.

Regulatory troubles Many Western producers face significant regulatory and policy-related challenges, brought on — in part — by federal agency implementation of environmental laws; destructive tactics employed by litigious, anti-farming activists; and a myriad of new rules and policies, many of which have been driven by the Obama administration. On the ground, water infrastructure that was built early in the last century is aging, and once-reliable federal grant and loan programs are a thing of the past. Meanwhile, little progress has been made toward developing modern water infrastructure to keep up with the growing water demands exerted by expanding cities, power plants, and environmental needs.

The challenges are daunting, and they will require innovative solutions. We must find ways to modernize and expand Western water infrastructure, curb environmental litigation against federal agencies and the rural communities they serve, and make antiquated federal environmental laws work better for the nation’s food production, ecosystems and rural communities. We must start trimming chapters, rather than adding new ones to a regulatory playbook that is much too voluminous, top-down and daunting.

The Family Farm Alliance has developed specific recommendations for the Trump administration that provide solutions to meet these needs. It is our hope that the incoming administration will embrace our philosophy; the best solutions are driven locally by real people with a grasp of reality “on the ground,” and who are heavily invested in the success of such solutions.