Jan 2, 2017 | Alliance Op/Ed

New administration brings opportunities for Western agriculture

A massive flood event or destructive drought are two sure crises that will get

policymakers focused on improving water management policy. The recent drought has ramped up much-needed congressional interest in Western water. Late last year, President Obama signed into law the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. This will allow Western

water providers to better manage and prepare for future dry times. Earlier this year, historic snowpack levels and heavy rains overwhelmed parts of the West Coast. This further underscores the critical importance of upgrading infrastructure and policies to enhance water resources management.

The Trump administration and Congress

need to address Western water resources

development with priority. Right now, new

water projects are often hamstrung by a

vast array of dated federal environmental

laws and regulations. Unfortunately, it’s

hard to draw attention to these issues.

Right now, energy issues, repealing and/or

replacing Obamacare and tax reform are all

hogging the limelight in Washington.

It’s time to make Western irrigated

agriculture one of the priorities for the

Trump administration.

American food production requires a

vibrant farm economy. For farmers to

survive, a stable water supply is a must. In

many areas of the West, water resources

are available and projects are waiting to be

developed. However, federal policies make

development of these stabilizing water

supplies nearly impossible.

Over the past decade, certain activist

groups have cynically used fish and wildlife

management to eliminate sectors of

production agriculture. Sometimes, these

efforts have been supported by our own

federal government. It has happened in

places like the Klamath Basin and California’s

Central Valley. Water originally developed

for farms and ranches has been redirected

to meet the unsubstantiated needs of fish

protected under the Endangered Species

Act. It is happening now in Oregon’s

Deschutes River Basin, where environmental

litigants are taking water away from farmers

and dedicating it to the debatable needs of

the ESA-protected Oregon spotted frog.

The producers and conservationists we

work with are always looking for ways to

find a sustainable balance of environmental

protection and economic prosperity.

Irrigated agriculture provides a $172 billion

annual boost to our economy. It also

provides important habitat for western

waterfowl and other wildlife. Its open

spaces are treasured by citizens throughout

the West and the nation. Family farmers

and ranchers are clearly willing to partner

with constructive conservation groups

and federal agencies. There are many

opportunities where producers can help

both strengthen their productivity and

improve the environment.

Still, many Western producers face daunting

regulatory and policy-related challenges.

Some of these are brought on — in part

— by federal agency implementation of

environmental laws. Others result from the

harmful tactics employed by litigious, anti-

farming activists. Plus, there are countless

new rules and policies skewed toward

environmental protection.

On the ground, water systems built early

in the last century are aging. Once-reliable

federal grants and loan programs are a thing

of the past. Little progress has been made

toward developing new and improved

water infrastructure, while water demands

of expanding cities, energy production and

environmental needs continue to grow.

These challenges are daunting, and they

will require innovative solutions:

We must find ways to recover water

supply certainty by updating and

expanding Western water infrastructure.

Congress and the Trump administration

can find ways to curb environmental

lawsuits against federal agencies and the

rural communities they serve.

It’s time to update and streamline

outdated federal environmental laws

so they work to enhance the nation’s

food production, ecosystems and rural

communities together.

We must start trimming chapters, rather

than adding new ones, to the regulatory

playbook. The current one is already too

voluminous, top-down and daunting.

We have worked closely with the Western

Governors Association to seek creative

ways to update the ESA and make it work

better. We are always looking for specific

recommendations that can be applied via

legislation or administrative means.

We value our relationship with the Irrigation

Association and will work on many of these

endeavors with them. I serve on IA’s 2019

Farm Bill Task Force. We will continue to

promote improved coordination between

Interior Department and USDA water

conservation program implementation. The

role of irrigation districts in conservation

grant programs must be elevated. We’ll also

push for a stronger state and local role in

decision-making on conservation matters.

The Family Farm Alliance has developed

specific recommendations for the Trump

administration that can help provide

solutions to meet these needs. It is our

hope that the administration will embrace

our approach: the best solutions are driven

locally by real people with a grasp of “on-

the-ground” reality and who are strongly

invested in successful solutions.